Antecedents of picky eating behaviour in young children

Pauline M. Emmett*, Nicholas P. Hays, Caroline M. Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
324 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Picky eating behaviour in young children is a common concern for parents.

Objective: To investigate early life factors which are associated with a child becoming a picky eater.

Design: Singleton children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children were studied prospectively (n = 5758–6608). Parental-completion questionnaires were used to define ‘picky eating’ status at age 3 years, and child and parental feeding behaviours and practices throughout the first 2 years of life. Multinomial logistic regression models with 3 levels of picky eating (not, somewhat and very picky) as the dependant variables tested associations with antecedent variables, from pregnancy, and the first and second year of life, separately, then combining all significant variables in a final model.

Results: Feeding difficulties during complementary feeding and late introduction of lumpy foods (after 9 months) were associated with increased likelihood of the child being very picky. A strong predictor was the child being choosy at 15 months, particularly if the mother was worried about this behaviour. Many children (56%) were considered to be choosy at 15 months: 17% went on to be very picky at 3 years if the mother was not worried, compared with 50% if the mother was very worried by the choosiness. The mother providing fresh fruit and eating the same meal as the child were protective against later ‘picky eating’ while feeding ready-prepared food was predictive.

Conclusion: Advice and support to parents could help to reduce picky eating behaviour. Parents should be encouraged to introduce lumpy foods by 9 months, to feed fresh foods particularly fruit, and to eat with their children. Parents should be reassured that choosiness is normal and to continue to provide a variety of foods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-173
Number of pages11
Early online date10 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018

Structured keywords



  • Complementary feeding
  • Feeding behaviour
  • Parental feeding practices
  • Picky eating
  • Pre-school children


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