Is picky eating an eating disorder?




To examine the prevalence of picky eating and the relationship between picky eating, previously supported correlates of picky eating, other child eating and behavioral problems and maternal eating problems in children aged 8–12 years.


In a cohort study, 426 8- to 12-year-old children and their primary caretakers (91% mothers) were assessed in a small town community. Potential child eating behaviors associated with picky eating were reported by mothers using the Stanford Feeding Questionnaire. Child eating attitudes and disturbances were obtained from the McKnight Risk Factor Survey, food preferences and avoidances from a food preference list, child behavioral problems were assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist. To assess maternal eating disturbances EDI-subscales 1–3 as well as TFEQ-subscales “disinhibition” and “restraint” were used.


Picky and nonpicky eaters differed significantly on all of the child eating behaviors found to be correlates of picky eating in a previous study with younger children. Overall, picky children were reported to avoid foods in general more often than nonpicky eaters. Picky children did not differ from nonpicky children with regard to their own and maternal eating disturbances. However, picky children displayed more problem behaviors comprising both internalizing and externalizing behaviors.


The present study does not support the concept that picky eating is associated with disordered eating but rather with a range of behavioral problems. © 2008 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 2008