Finds recent survey of nearly 1,200 children across the 4 metros

Nine-year-old Anushka* eats only white food — anything that is coloured, she does not touch.

“She simply dislikes food. I compel her to eat and she does so, but it is extremely difficult. I hide coloured food in white food, make her eat eggs and vegetables, but every day is a challenge,” says her mother, a city-based travel consultant.

Fussy eating — a phenomenon where a child has strong food likes/dislikes, consumes only a limited number of food items or refuses to eat vegetables or other food groups — seems to have become a rising problem in the city, say doctors and parents.

A recent survey of nearly 1,200 children across the four metros found that Chennai has the highest percentage of fussy eaters, at 73 per cent, while Mumbai had the lowest, at 36 per cent.

The survey, commissioned by Abbott, a healthcare company, and carried out by TNS, a market-research agency, was conducted between October and December 2013, across 64 clinics in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. The height, weight and dietary habits of children between the ages of two and 10 were studied.

“Over the last 10 or 15 years, I have seen a significant increase in the number of fussy eaters. One of the main issues is that parents don’t expose their children to enough kinds of food when the child is between 12 and 18 months. After that, the child becomes hesitant to try anything new. Parents must minimise processed food during this time, and allow their children to eat all kinds of home-cooked meals,” says Bhaskar Raju, former professor of paediatric gastroenterology at the Institute of Child Health.

Dr. Raju said that eating only one kind of food all the time or taking excessive sweets and junk food, and then refusing to eat meals could have serious consequences.

“An incorrect balance in the diet can lead to insufficient intake of iron, minerals and vitamins. This can potentially lead to early diabetes, obesity and, later in life, to cardiac problems,” he said.

The survey also found that while fussy eating showed up equally in boys and girls, its impact in terms of weight was seen more in girls. Vegetables, predictably, were the major fuss-creator — only 36 per cent of fussy eaters eat vegetables every day, compared to 69 per cent of non-fussy eaters, the results revealed.

Reena’s* two children, aged seven and four, are “borderline fussy” she said. “They won’t eat big chunks of vegetables and won’t immediately try a new fruit. But they do like eating out and enjoy Mediterranean and Chinese food,” she said.

According to Bhuwaneshwari Shankar, chief dietician at Apollo Hospitals Group, parents have to keep trying to get their child to eat healthy. “Parents need to be innovative and make food exciting for children. It is challenging and requires immense patience, but a good diet is essential to a child’s health and growth,” she said.

*Names changed on request.

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