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Int J Eat Disord. 2015 Sep;48(6):570-9. doi: 10.1002/eat.22384. Epub 2015 Jan 30.

Trajectories of picky eating during childhood: A general population study.

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The Generation R Study Group, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Parnassia Psychiatric Institute, The Hague, The Netherlands.
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry/Psychology, Erasmus University Medical Center-Sophia Children's Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Department of Psychiatry, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Department of Pediatrics, Erasmus University Medical Center - Sophia Children's Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York.
Department of Psychiatry, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.



This cohort study describes the prevalence of picky eating and examines prognostic factors for picky eating trajectories during childhood.


4,018 participants of a population-based cohort with measurements from pregnancy onwards were included. Picky eating was assessed by maternal report when children were 1.5, 3, and 6 years old. The associations of child and family characteristics with trajectories of picky eating were examined using logistic regression. Never picky eaters were used as the reference group.


Prevalence of picky eating was 26.5% at 1.5 years of age, 27.6% at the age of 3 and declined to 13.2% at 6 years. Four main picky eating trajectories were defined: (1) never picky eating at all three assessments (55% of children), (2) remitting (0-4 years, 32%), (3) late-onset (6 years only, 4%), and (4) persistent (all ages, 4%). This implies that almost two thirds of the early picky eaters remitted within 3 years. Male sex, lower birth weight, non-Western maternal ethnicity, and low parental income predicted persistent picky eating. More often late-onset picky eaters were children of parents with low income and non-Western ethnicity.


We found that nearly half (46%) of children were picky eaters at some point during early childhood. Remittance was very high. This suggests that picky eating is usually a transient behavior and part of normal development in preschool children. However, a substantial group of persistent picky eaters, often from a socially disadvantaged background, continues to have problems beyond the preschool age.


child eating problems; children; epidemiology; longitudinal study; picky eating

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