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J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2008 Jun;29(3):197-205. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e318163c388.

Preschool children perceived by mothers as irregular eaters: physical and psychosocial predictors from a birth cohort study.

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Kids in Mind Research: The Mater Centre for Service Research in Mental Health, Mater Community Services Building, South Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.



Parents often report their children display irregular eating patterns. Our aim is to describe the stability of maternal-perceived irregular eating of their offspring from 6 months to 2-4 years of age and to investigate factors that are associated with maternal perceived irregular eating of their 2-4 year old offspring.


A longitudinal mother-child linked analysis was carried out using 5 year follow-up data from a population-based prospective birth cohort of 5122 mothers who were participants in the Mater-University Study of Pregnancy, Brisbane. Measures included responses to standardized questionnaires, pediatrician review and standardized measures such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised and the Child Behavior Checklist.


20.2% and 7.6% of mothers respectively stated their 2-4 year old was sometimes or often an irregular eater. Continuity of feeding difficulties from age 6 months was prominent: 48% of 6 month olds with a feeding problem were 'sometimes' or 'often' irregular eaters at age 2-4 years. From a multivariable analysis, both child-intrinsic factors (chronic physical morbidity, sleeplessness and anxiety-depressive symptoms) and factors that impinge upon the child (poor maternal health and maternal depression and anxiety) independently contributed to irregular eating status at age 2-4 years.


We conclude that approximately one third of mothers had some concern with their child's irregular eating, 7.6% of mothers were often concerned. Irregular eating children were usually physically well, more likely to have persisting feeding problems, sleeplessness, behavioral problems and lived with mothers with perceived poor physical and mental health. Intervention strategies should be family orientated and include child, mother and mother-child psychosocial approaches.

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