How Do Toddler Eating Problems Relate to Their Eating Behavior, Food Preferences, and Growth?
OBJECTIVES. Eating problems are a common cause of concern for the parents of toddlers, but few studies have examined the correlates of eating problems or the growth patterns associated with them in a large population-based sample. Our goal was to examine the distribution of eating behaviors in a large representative sample of toddlers and their mothers’ approach to feeding. In addition, we describe the prevalence of parentally perceived eating problems and how they relate to specific behaviors, food preferences, and growth in the child.
METHODS. We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of data from a United Kingdom population-based birth cohort, the Gateshead Millennium Baby Study, which included 455 questionnaires completed by parents when their children were aged 30 months.
RESULTS. Eating was perceived to be a problem by 89 (20%) parents. Eating a limited variety (79 [17%]) and preferring drinks to food (57 [13%]) were the most prevalent problem behaviors. Thirty-seven children (8%) were described by parents as definitely “faddy” (picky), and these children liked fewer foods and had higher eating restriction scores than those described as not faddy. Children who were described as having an eating problem gained less weight over the first 2 years; 11.1% had weight faltering compared with 3.5% in children not described as having an eating problem. Being faddy was only weakly associated with poor growth, and simply eating a limited variety was unrelated to growth. High milk consumption was associated with lower appetite but not with poor growth.
CONCLUSIONS. Eating problems are common in toddlers and in the majority are associated with normal growth, although weight faltering is more common in such children. Excessive milk-drinking may be a cause of low appetite at meal times.