Parents Who Push Picky Kids To Eat Healthy Foods May Be Doing More Harm Than Good, Study Finds

Forcing spinach on kids may not be as much in their best interest as many parents like to think.

Picky eating is a character flaw
David Goehring / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 Cropped Resized)

Forcing spinach on kids may not be as much in their best interest as many parents like to think.

It’s a common sight at the dinner table: the child who just doesn’t want to eat their vegetables, or other nutritious food that otherwise doesn’t appeal to certain children. Unfortunately, parents often feel helpless about what they can do to combat such an issue. The problem causes significant stress as nutrition for children is a major concern for most parents.

One solution by many parents is take a firm approach in forcing their kids to eat healthy foods the child doesn’t particularly care for, against their will. Another method is to ostensibly trick children into eating the detested foods by using coercion.

Futurity recently referenced a study which concluded that pushing healthy food on children may not be the best approach in persuading them to eat properly. In fact, it may in fact be causing damage, both to the child, and to the parent-child relationship.

One of the biggest parental fears, apart from general malnutrition for picky-eater children, is obesity.

Some researchers are now positing that picky eating in and of itself is largely inconsequential on obesity in children. Julie Lumeng, a nutritional science professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, states that weight wasn’t demonstrably affected by a tendency toward picky eating.

It’s probably not what most parents would like to feed their children regularly, but meals like Chef Boyardee is one option many picky-eating-children tend to respond to positively. A recent study is now saying it’s not as big of a deal as many parents previously feared. Mike Mozart / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 Cropped and Resized)

Lumeng, who is also a professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and practices at the University of Michigan Medical school, also said that the likelihood of the behavior changing in any kind of meaningful way, appears to be low.

“In a nutshell, we found that over a year of life in toddlerhood, weight remained stable on the growth chart whether they were picky eaters or not. The kids’ picky eating also was not very changeable. It stayed the same whether parents pressured their picky eaters or not.”

In regard to whether or not pressure from parents had any outcome could reduce the presence of picky eating in children, Lumeng did not appear to be a proponent.

“Then we asked if pressuring led to a decrease in picky eating, and it didn’t. There was no link between pressuring and picky eating and any of these other outcomes.”

According to the study, and as communicated by Julie Lumeng, the presence of picky eating can be an inconvenience and a nuisance for parents, causing headaches and stress in homes across America.

Statistically speaking, however, picky or “selective” eating in children is rarely a serious health concern and not generally considered to be nothing more than a minor character flaw.