Is parental depression associated with preschoolers’ fussy eating habits?

Is parental depression associated with preschoolers’ fussy eating habits?

The constant phase of darkness that parents plunge into during the pregnancy and the formative years of a child’s upbringing may, directly or indirectly, affect physical and mental growth of the child. The depression of parents during the gestation period and the child’s pre-school years has been linked to an increased likelihood of his being a fussy eater, a research at Erasmus University Medical Center in The Netherlands has found.

The study that aimed to examine the association between anxiety and depression that parents suffer from with fussy eating habits of a child discovered the link with mothers enduring depression and anxiety during both pregnancy and pre-school phases. The study – titled “Are parents’ anxiety and depression related to child fussy eating?” – was published online on February 25, 2016 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

About the study

For the purpose of the research, data from the Generation R study, which has been tracking the health and wellbeing of children born since 2002, were analyzed. The research involved 4,746 mother-child pairs and 4,144 fathers. The parents were asked to fill in a questionnaire containing queries dealing with anxiety and depression. They were then asked to fill another questionnaire dealing with their child’s eating habits three years later than the first round of survey, i.e., when their wards turned four.

The scientists found that by the age of three, 30 percent of children were fussy eaters. Lead author of the study, Lisanne de Barse, of Erasmus MC-University Medical Center in Rotterdam said, “The food fussiness scale covers children who are difficult to please with meals, display food neophobia (a refusal of new foods) and who had a limited diet variety. Fussy eating can really be a problem for the families. Dinners can become very difficult. There is also some evidence that when a child continues to be a fussy eater there can continue to be additional health problems.”

The study revealed that clinically high anxiety scores in mothers were linked to heightened fussy eating habits in the children. It also pointed to the same results in case of above average maternal anxiety scores when compared with mothers who had displayed only average or below the average rate of depressive symptoms. Researchers found that each additional point the mothers scored on the anxiety scale in pregnancy was linked with an extra point on the score denoting fussy eating habits in their children.

Among the fathers, only anxiety during the pre-school phase was identified with fussy eating mannerisms in their respective children. Also, the scientists disclosed that less than 10 percent of parents showed significantly high levels of depressive behavior and anxiety. Stressing on eating habits being influenced by depressive symptoms in parents, de Barse said, “However, we found that not only severe anxiety and depression, but also milder forms of internalizing problems can affect eating behavior.”

As the researchers were not able to find a causative link between depression in parents and fussy eating habits in children, de Barse told the Reuters Health, “It’s not clear what influences fussy eating. We found that mothers’ internalizing symptoms during pregnancy predicted a four-year-old’s fussy eating, irrespective of whether the mother had symptoms when the child was three years old. What we knew is that there was a relationship between mothers’ anxiety and depression during the child’s life and their children’s fussy eating.”

Seeking treatment

The children whose parents are depressed and anxious are at a heightened risk of other mental problems. If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, California Mental Health Helpline can ensure you get care fast and easy. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online for more information.