Wary babies tend to be picky eaters too: child development study

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WATCH ABOVE: In tonight's edition of health matters, Su-Ling Goh has a story on picky eaters and a program that combines mental health therapy and horses – Aug 10, 2017

Research out of Penn State University indicates infants with more inhibited personalities are more likely to turn up their nose at new foods.

In their first 18 months, babies who were wary of new toys also tended to be less accepting of new foods, suggesting early attitudes toward food could stem from personality.

READ MORE: Tips to prevent picky eaters 

The study points out that a person’s temperament usually falls somewhere on the exuberant-inhibited spectrum. Those on the exuberant end approach new things and situations head on, while people who are more inhibited are more reserved.

“Not only were they associated at 12 months, but those responses also predicted reactions to new objects, six months later. They also followed the same developmental pattern across the first year of life.”

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A Penn State professor in human development says temperament affects almost every aspect of an individual’s life.

“Temperament is kind of like a pair of glasses that each person wears,” Cynthia Stifter said.

“It’s the unique way one sees the world. Everything one responds to is through the lens of who they are, meaning the biology-based individual differences that they’re born with.”

This study is one of the first to explore how temperamental approach relates to a child’s eating behaviour.

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“From the time they’re very young, some infants are more ‘approaching’ and react positively to new things, whereas other infants are more ‘withdrawing’ and react negatively to the same stimuli,” Moding said. “But very few studies have examined whether infants show similar approach and withdrawal behaviours in response to new foods.”

WATCH: How to eat healthy with picky eaters in the home

The researchers recruited 136 sets of parents and babies, who visited the lab when the babies were six, 12 and 18 months old. During the visits, the infants’ reactions to new foods and new toys were watched and noted by researchers.

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At 12 months old, the babies who had reacted positively to the new toys also tended to react similarly to the new foods, the researchers found. Those who reacted negatively to the new toys were also hesitant to try the new foods.

The findings also indicated that the way babies approach new foods at 12 months old was also a good predictor of how they would continue to approach other new objects throughout their toddler years.

“The results suggest that infant and toddler responses to new foods are based on their temperament,” Moding said.

“Infants who show hesitation in response to new toys will likely show hesitation when trying new foods for the first time as well.”

READ MORE: Picky eating ‘can be repaired’: expert 

Stifter said it was important to note that although temperament is something a person is born with, it doesn’t mean a person can’t change their behaviours.

Moding suggested parents should continue to encourage a varied diet.

“Keep trying! Research from other labs has consistently shown that infants and children can learn to accept new foods if their caregivers continue to offer them. It can take as many as 10 tries, but infants and children can learn to accept and eat even initially disliked foods.”

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Watch below: Picky eating can derail supper plans and create mealtime mayhem. Registered dietitian Emily Mardell offers a few tips and tricks to combat the issue.

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How to combat picky eaters

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally said the research was done in Colorado, however Kameron did the study while earning her PhD at Penn State.

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