The headlines are alarmist — picky eating can be a “gateway” to “deeper psychological problems.”
Let’s calm down. The study in question, published in the journal Pediatrics, found a correlation between picky eating and conditions of anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
However, there is no indication that picky eating causes mental health conditions, nor does the study find the opposite — neither is there evidence that these conditions cause any or all picky eating.
Instead, it cautions pediatricians to be alert and to potentially use picky eating as a red flag — a marker warranting further inquiry into mental health. Sensible, but remember one of the first rules of social science: correlation does not equal causation.
So, what are parents and experts to do with the results? Certainly keep an eye out for alarming behavior, whether at the table or not. Picky eaters, yes, may more often have other sensitivities, including mental health sensitivities. (Check out Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Child for an excellent discussion of sensitivity in children.)
More often, though, realize that picky eaters are sometimes just picky eaters, as I discuss today in my latest Washington Post piece, “I Was A Picky Eater, And Now My Kids Are”.