Ask almost any parent what’s for dinner, and they’ll no doubt launch into a lengthy lamentation on the fussy eating habits of their kids. For those in the throes of mealtime meltdowns, it’s sometimes easier to surrender to the consensus that catapulting spoons as just another trying part of toddlerhood.
But new research reveals mums and dads have a bigger role to play in the cause of food refusal – and it begins much earlier than you’d expect.
According to a recent study, the way mothers feel – emotionally – during pregnancy can influence the one-day eating habits of their children. Their psychological state may also effect either positive or negative approaches to food within their babies’ first few years of life – and fathers’ demeanours can influence a child’s eating habits after birth, too.
So-called ‘fussy-eaters’ are considered those who reject certain types of food — which, of course, narrows the demographic down to nearly every kid on the planet.
Still; children who fall into the category – either moderately or more seriously, could be at risk for problems like constipation, weight issues and behavioural issues; so it makes sense to take preventative measures wherever possible.
For the Netherlands’ study, researchers analysed 4,746 mothers and 4,144 fathers who had babies between 2002 and 2006. The parents completed questionnaires during pregnancy and then again three years later, reporting their own symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as information about their children’s eating habits. By age three, approximately 30 percent of the children were classified as fussy eaters.
Obviously, the picky eating scenario can easily create anxieties and frustrations – and young ones feed off of bad vibes more voraciously than anything edible. It’s a vicious cycle. However, the research team observed a similar correlation between fussy eating and maternal depression; so the difficulties at the table are not only a result of reactive behaviours postpartum. Women who experienced more depression before birth had children who scored higher on the fussy eating scale as well.
The fact that this was an observational study means it’s not possible to assume any concrete conclusions about the link between these factors, but the researchers believe there’s something bigger to the connection. And, treating PPD is crucial for parents either way – proven effect on eating or not.
“[The research] strongly suggests that the direction of the associations with mothers’ antenatal symptoms is from mother to child,” the researchers wrote in the study’s release. “Clinicians should be aware that not only severe anxiety and depression, but also milder forms of internalising problems can affect child eating behaviour.”