Longitudinal Study Reveals Link Between Childhood Picky Eating and Adult Dietary Habits

by Ella

A comprehensive 14-year longitudinal study conducted in the Netherlands has unearthed significant insights into the relationship between childhood picky eating habits and adult dietary choices. The study, which tracked children from the age of 4 to 18, found that individuals who exhibited picky eating behaviors in early childhood were less likely to consume certain healthy foods, including fruit, raw and cooked vegetables, fish, and dairy products, in their later years. However, no such associations were identified with the consumption of sweet drinks, snacks, meat, or eggs.

The research underscores the critical importance of healthy nutrition during childhood, as it plays a pivotal role in long-term well-being. Maintaining a well-balanced diet in childhood can mitigate the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood and promote healthy weight management.


Picky or selective eating is a prevalent behavior among children, characterized by the rejection of specific foods, leading to a limited dietary repertoire. Such individuals may exhibit reluctance to try new foods, a trait referred to as food neophobia. Picky eaters often derive less pleasure from eating, eat at a slower pace, and experience a quicker feeling of fullness. Estimates suggest that picky eaters comprise a range of 6% to 50% of all children.


The study, led by author Josine Pereboom and her colleagues, sought to examine the enduring impact of picky eating in early childhood on dietary choices and habits in adulthood. Of particular interest were the links between childhood picky eating tendencies and the consumption of both healthy and unhealthy foods, as well as the weight status of young adults.


The research drew upon data from the KOALA Birth Cohort Study, encompassing 2,768 women from South-East Netherlands who were pregnant between 2000 and 2002, along with their offspring. These participants underwent periodic assessments over time.


Data pertinent to this study was collected in 2007 when the children were 4 to 5 years old, with 2,046 mothers participating in the assessment. Subsequently, in 2021, 926 mothers and 880 of their now 18-year-old children completed further study assessments.

To gauge picky eating behaviors, researchers relied on responses from mothers in 2007 to three questions from the Child Feeding Questionnaire. In 2021, these same individuals, now young adults, completed a food frequency questionnaire, detailing the frequency of consumption of various foods. They also reported their height and weight.

Key findings revealed that, in 2021, participants reported consuming fried snacks the least often, while cooked and stir-fried vegetables were consumed most frequently. On average, participants reported consuming more than one snack per day.

Those children who displayed a propensity for picky eating in their younger years tended to consume fruit, raw and cooked vegetables, fish, and dairy products less frequently in adulthood, compared to those who did not exhibit such tendencies. Young adults with a normal body mass index displayed the lowest picky eating scores during childhood, on average. However, childhood picky eating scores did not significantly differ among participants with other body mass categories.

No significant associations were established between childhood picky eating and the consumption of meat, eggs, fried snacks, chips, nuts and pretzels, cakes and biscuits, sweets, fruit juices, or soft drinks in adulthood.

In conclusion, the study underscores the importance of addressing picky eating behaviors in young children, as these tendencies appear to influence the consumption of healthy foods in adulthood. However, it is important to acknowledge the study’s limitations, including the lack of reassessment of picky eating behaviors in adulthood and the absence of portion size considerations in the food frequency questionnaire.

The study titled “Association of picky eating around age 4 with dietary intake and weight status in early adulthood: A 14-year follow-up based on the KOALA birth cohort study” was authored by Josine Pereboom, Carel Thijs, Simone Eussen, Monique Mommers, and Jessica S. Gubbels.



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