ADHD News & Research

New Study: Picky Eating May Suggest ADHD, Depression or Anxiety

Your child’s choosy eating habits may be more than stubbornness or defiance; they could help you identify an underlying psychological condition.

August 3, 2015

As any parent knows, most children initially turn up their noses at new, healthy foods. If given the choice between broccoli or chicken fingers, you know what they’ll choose every time — with ketchup on top. For most children, this is a normal developmental process, while for others picky eating habits can be indicative of additional problems.

A new study published in Pediatrics has found an association between eating habits and neurological conditions. The researchers, who interviewed parents of 917 children ranging in age from two to six over the course of three years, found a connection between moderate selective eating — indicative of those choosy eaters we mentioned — and symptoms of conditions including anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Children who exhibited severe selective eating — such strict food preferences they have trouble eating away from home — were found to be seven times more likely to be diagnosed with social anxiety, and twice as likely to become depressed.

Being a choosy eater does not cause these conditions, and the conditions don’t cause picky eating — they are merely linked. Scientists believe that these anxious or depressed children are more sensitive to sensory experiences like textures and tastes, which could make them more likely to have stronger feelings about food. How children act around the dinner table could be representative of how they experience the world.

Parents of picky eaters take heart: If your child is selective about food, this new research could help you identify and treat a condition earlier, or at the very least take some of the pressure off if your child is resistant to your efforts to try new foods. Try not to make mealtime a battleground — introduce new foods during snack time, and focus on positive experiences with the family while you eat together — even if it is the same thing every night. Offer healthy options, and eat them yourself to model how to eat for your child.