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IF you're worried about your child's fussy eating habits then new UK research may reassure you as it suggests that picky eaters still grow up with a healthy height and weight and that not worrying about their eating behaviour could actually help children be less choosy.
Carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol, the new study used data taken from the Children of the 90s study, a longitudinal programme carried out by the university which has followed thousands of children since their birth in the early 1990s.
The team analysed the height, weight and body composition of nearly 300 children between the ages of seven and 17 years who were picky eaters when they were three years old and compared the measurements with 900 children in the same study who were not picky eaters.
When comparing the results to growth charts, the mean height, weight and body mass index (BMI) of picky eaters showed that they grew normally.
In addition, more than two-thirds of picky eaters were not underweight at any age point.
The researchers also looked at some of the reasons behind fussy eating in a separate study, including whether parents' concerns about picky eating contributed to the behaviour.
After analysing 6,000 questionnaires also taken from the Children of the 90s study, the researchers found that introducing lumpy foods late — after nine months of age — and parents' worrying about their child's fussiness were both contributing factors for children who were very picky eaters at three years old.
The practice of parents eating the same meal together with their children was shown to be protective against picky eating.
Study author Dr Caroline Taylor noted, “Parents should be reassured by our research that the fussy toddler they may be faced with today can grow up with a good healthy weight and height, although a few may have periods of skinniness. Increased worry around feeding can contribute towards young children being pickier about the foods they will accept.”
“Advice and support for families should include encouraging the introduction of lumpy foods by nine months, offering new foods regularly but without pressure, and eating with their children as much as possible.”
“A wide variety of foods is the ideal way to meet vitamin and mineral requirements but it is possible to have a complete diet based on fewer foods, provided these come from all four of the main food groups,” added Julie Lanigan, chair of the British Dietetic Association's Paediatric Specialist Group.
She continued, “Picky eating is not a new phenomenon and is common in infants and toddlers, so parents should not blame themselves. What we do know now is that lessening parental worry is important to make feeding more enjoyable and less stressful.”
The findings from the studies can be found published online in the journal Appetite and the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.