Forcing fussy kids backfires
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.”