Forc­ing fussy kids back­fires

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS - SUSIE O’BRIEN

PAR­ENTS who try to force their fussy kids to eat ev­ery­thing on their plate are do­ing more harm than good, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

A new study of more than 200 par­ents has shown tech­niques such as giv­ing food re­wards to fussy eaters, or putting pressure on kids who aren’t eat­ing enough are com­mon.

But the re­searchers say fussi­ness is a nor­mal stage of chil­dren’s life and re­wards or pressure from par­ents can lead to weight gain, make fussy eat­ing worse, and in­crease poor food choices.

Fussy eat­ing in­volves the chronic re­jec­tion of novel – and even fa­mil­iar – food, and is as­so­ci­ated with poor variety and quality of food in­take, said the study’s lead au­thor, Holly Har­ris, of the Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

Al­most half of all par­ents think their child is a fussy eater at some point in their first six years of life.

Dr Har­ris said fussi­ness with food was a “nor­mal and tran­sient phase for most chil­dren”. De­spite this, “the stress as­so­ci­ated with fussy eat­ing can neg­a­tively af­fect the child, par­ent, or child-par­ent re­la­tion­ship, re­gard­less of du­ra­tion,” she said.

“Par­ents may in­ter­pret the re­fusal of fa­mil­iar food as fussi­ness or per­ceive the be­hav­iour as prob­lem­atic, and, with good in­ten­tions, use feed­ing prac­tices that may not ap­pro­pri­ately re­spond to the child’s ap­petite,” Dr Har­ris said, writ­ing for the Jour­nal of Nu­tri­tion Ed­u­ca­tion and Be­hav­iour.

“Pres­sur­ing a child to eat has been as­so­ci­ated with in­creased food re­jec­tion and the ex­ac­er­ba­tion of fussy eat­ing,’’ she said.

‘‘Of­fer­ing foods the child prefers – of­ten en­ergy dense and nu­tri­ent poor – as a re­ward for eat­ing dis­liked foods is thought to re­in­force pref­er­ence for the re­warded food and re­duce pref­er­ence for the dis­liked, which was typ­i­cally nu­tri­ent-dense food.”

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