NUTRITION
July 9, 2019

Food Phobic

Food neophobia is an extreme form of picky eating and can lead to chronic health problems. Parents of kids who won't try new foods need to keep introducing them anyway.

Young children are well-known for being picky eaters, but food neophobia, in which people refuse to eat or even taste new foods, goes beyond that. Eating only a few foods and avoiding new ones can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies in a person’s diet, increasing their risk for chronic lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

The Food Neophobia Scale, which contains 10 questions about a person’s eating behavior, is used to detect and measure the fear of new foods. Picky and fussy eating, common eating behaviors in all age groups, especially children, are similar to neophobia. Differentiating between the eating behaviors can be challenging.

The decline in health seen in people who eat only a narrow range of foods offers a lens on how important a versatile and healthy diet is.

While food neophobia is common in children and older people, few studies have looked at it among adults. Researchers with the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, the University of Helsinki and the University of Tartu in Estonia investigated the impact of eating behavior, particularly food neophobia, on diet quality, lifestyle diseases and their risk factors among people between the ages of 25 and 75 years.

People with food neophobia tended to have a lower intake of fiber, protein and monounsaturated fats and a higher intake of saturated fat and salt. An adverse fatty acid profile and increased levels of inflammatory markers in the blood were found among people with the eating behavior, probably because they favored carbohydrates and ate too few fruits and vegetables. This increased their risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Though weight changes are often considered the primary impact of diet on health, the study reported that the influence of food neophobia occurred regardless of weight or other factors such as age, socioeconomic status, gender or environment.

The decline in health seen in people who eat only a narrow range of foods offers a lens on how important a versatile and healthy diet is. Intervening early — in children and teens — to counteract the problematic eating behaviors common to food neophobia is the best way to prevent the damage a restrictive diet can cause, researcher Markus Perola, from the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, believes.

Food neophobia could be hereditary. Studies of twins have found that as many as 78 percent of food neophobia cases may be hereditary. According to Perola, genetics only determines a person’s predisposition to food neophobia. The development of a diverse diet begins with educating children who quickly or immediately reject foods and lifestyle guidance through adulthood.

Start early, very early, introducing your children to a variety of foods, even foods you don’t like or think they will like. Be persistent, but not too pushy. It may take up to 10 exposures to a food before a child will eat it. Make sure your child understands that they need to eat different foods.

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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