Picky eating in children predicts anxiety

Picky eating in children may be a predictor of later anxiety, despite families and doctors often seeing it as developmentally normal, or just a phase.

A study of 180 US children aged 2–6 found that those with either moderate or severe picky or selective eating behaviours were at an increased risk of having anxiety and other psychiatric symptoms, such as depression or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, when followed up 2 years later.

These children also had an almost doubled risk of generalised anxiety disorder, after adjusting for levels at the start of the study, the researchers found.

The authors suggest that screening children for the behaviour may be useful, as it is seemingly a marker of vulnerability for later anxiety symptoms and because parents can reliably identify selective eating.

The study also found that children with severe selective eating – defined as difficulty eating with others because of the extremely limited range of their preferred foods – had twice the risk of a later diagnosis of depression and almost 3 times the risk of a diagnosis of social anxiety.

One in 5 study participants were selective eaters, with about 18% and 3% being categorised as moderate and severe, respectively.


Zucker N, et al. Psychological and psychosocial impairment in preschoolers with selective eating. Pediatrics Published online August 3, 2015
(doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-2386)