According to the Duke Medicine report in the journal Pediatrics, more than 20 percent of children aged 2-6 are picky eaters.
About 18 percent of those were classified as moderately picky and another three percent as extremely so.
It was in these subsets — kids who are moderately or severely fussy about the foods they eat — that scientists found greater occurrence of mental health issues such as clinical depression or anxiety.
Since picky eating can also cause poor nutrition and family conflict, the report said, it appears important for parents and medical staff to keep an eye on a risk of underlying emotional issues.
“These are children whose eating has become so limited or selective that it’s starting to cause problems,” said lead author Nancy Zucker, director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders.
“Impairment can take many different forms. It can affect the child’s health, growth, social functioning, and the parent-child relationship. The child can feel like no one believes them, and parents can feel blamed for the problem.”
Children whose picky eating becomes a serious challenge also may have what doctors now call “Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.”
Mental health professionals believe they can help some of these children with behavioral therapy over foods that may cause them anxiety.