Picky Eating Linked To Depression & ADHD, But Let's Not Freak Out Yet

If there's one thing we know about being a parent, it's that there's always reason to panic. So, add this to your already-full freak-out file: Research suggests picky eaters may have mental health problems as adults.


As a parent of two picky toddlers hearing this news, my first reaction is: Oh my God, I need to whip up a broccoli smoothie and fashion some kind of contraption that will allow me to feed it to my kids in their sleep. But I promised myself I wasn't going to freak out -- yet.

Digging deeper into the New York Times article that discusses the potential link between picky eating and depression, anxiety, and ADHD in children calms my panicky brain and makes the picture a little clearer.

When researchers observed 917 children from the ages of 2 to 6, they discovered that "moderate selective eating," otherwise known as picky eating, brought with it some symptoms of psychological disorders, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and anxiety, later in life. The really picky eaters (those categorized with severe selective eating) were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and seven times more likely to have social anxiety than the "good" eaters.

That's just great.

Like any parent I know, I've bent over backwards to give both of my kids a cornucopia of nutrients since birth. First, it was the breastmilk. Then, it was the homemade organic baby food (that only lasted for a short time because the Baby Bullet is a joke). And finally, it's all the fresh and even fermented vegetables that my husband and I make for our kids each day, presented with a song and dance in the hopes that they'll eat a few bites before they throw them on the floor.

Spoiler alert: They always throw them on the floor.

For people who don't have a dog in the race (or a child at home), this research is great to have. Understanding the early warning signs of these behavioral and mental health issues could provide the estimated 20 percent of picky eaters with options for early intervention, and that is a wonderful thing.

But for the rest of us easily excited parents who take the latest study as gospel truth, this research is like a slow-moving missile in the brain -- which will probably detonate at two in the morning when I'm tossing and turning and worrying about my kids finishing all the broccoli on their plate.

Here's what we know: Research is helpful, but it isn't absolute. I can guarantee that most parents are doing everything in their power to get their kids to eat their greens, but (and how do I put this delicately?) sometimes, toddlers are jerks. Sometimes, my sons will look me straight in the eye as they feed green beans to the dog.

If you're making your best effort to feed your kids vegetables at each meal, give yourself a break. You know your child best. If you have a concern about any extreme picky eating habits, talk to your pediatrician first. And when your kid refuses to eat broccoli again for the fifth night in a row, try not to panic. Maybe they're just being a kid.


Image via © Beau Lark/Corbis

Bethany Ramos is an editor, blogger, and author. She lives in Texas with her husband and 2- and 3-year-old sons, but her heart is in Colorado.

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