Many parents will know the regular battle of getting a young ‘picky eater’ to try new foods.
But battles at the dinner table could be least of their worries, with a new study suggesting fussy children could be set up for a life of ill-health.
Experts from the Netherlands found children who refused to eat many foods when aged four-to-five-years-of-age ate less fruit, vegetables, dairy and fish when they turned 18 compared to their non-picky counterparts.
The authors, who compared the eating habits of almost 1,000 people as children and adults over 14 years in 880 people, said the results highlighted how picky eating among children shouldn’t be dismissed.
Eating fewer healthy fruit and vegetables, as well as lean proteins like fish, can increase people’s risk of obesity and a host of other health conditions.
Experts from the Netherlands found kids who were picky eaters aged four-to-five-years-of-age at less fruit, vegetables, dairy and fish when they turned 18 than their non-picky counterparts
But in reassurance to those who like to give children the occasional sweet treat, eating junk food like fizzy drinks or snacks when young wasn’t associated with a higher body-mass-index later in life.
The study, published in the journal Appetite, was based on results gathered from almost 880 children who grew up in the South-East Netherlands.
Researchers, from Maastricht University, interviewed the mothers of the children back in 2007, when the children were aged between four and five.
Mothers were asked about their child’s eating habits and each child was given a score out of five rating their pickiness with the average child scoring 2.24.
Then 14-years later in 2021 the children, now 18, were interviewed about their food intake and how often they ate certain products.
The now adults were also asked about their height and weight to calculate their BMI.
Researchers found the pickier children were more likely to report eating fewer fruit and vegetables than those who weren’t as picky as kids.
However, picky eating as a child was not associated with an increased intake of soft drinks or snacks as a grown-up.
For BMI, experts found that while non-picky eating children were more likely to have a healthy score later in life, picky eaters weren’t significantly more likely to be under or overweight.
The experts theorised that picky eating children are more likely to grow into picky eating adults leaving them with a ‘low quality dietary intake’.
However, they added further research is needed as they did re-do the picky eating scoring test for the adults.
They also recommended the study be replicated with more participants to get a larger sample size for BMI readings.
But they still said the findings showed the value of interventions in kids eating habits to try and get them to eat new and different foods.
‘Picky eating in childhood is associated with lower intake frequencies of various healthy foods among young adults,’ they wrote.
‘It is therefore recommended to pay sufficient attention to picky eating in young children,” the study authors concluded.’
The authors added that another limitation of their study is that it did not account for the portion size of food eaten by adults which may have influenced the results.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide