Poster Session
Issue Date: August 2016
Published Online: August 01, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2021
Examination of the Information Mothers Receive About Children's Picky Eating Habits: A Mixed-Methods Study
Author Affiliations
  • Ithaca College
  • Ithaca College
Article Information
Pediatric Evaluation and Intervention / Health Services Research and Education
Poster Session   |   August 01, 2016
Examination of the Information Mothers Receive About Children's Picky Eating Habits: A Mixed-Methods Study
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011510228.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011510228.

Date Presented 4/9/2016

This mixed-methods study investigated how mothers of picky eaters perceive mealtime and obtain information about picky eating. Results suggest occupational therapists should use online sources and collaborate with pediatricians to communicate with parents about mealtime concerns.

Primary Author and Speaker: Elizabeth Curney

Additional Author and Speaker: Kimberly Wilkinson

The purpose of this study was to determine where mothers obtain information about their child’s picky eating and elicit narrative descriptions from mothers about experiences around mealtime and eating.
RESEARCH QUESTIONS: Where do mothers get information on picky eating? What sources are most helpful? What are mothers’ concerns about picky eating? What is mealtime like with picky eaters?
BACKGROUND: Studies have shown that 25%–50% of children have a feeding disorder to some degree (van der Horst, 2012). Eating habits formed as a child can persist into adulthood (Horodynski, Stommel, Brophy-Herb, Xie, & Weatherspoon, 2010), and mothers’ concerns about eating lead to increased numbers of physician’s visits (Mascola, Bryson, & Agras, 2010). Occupational therapists work with children on difficulties with eating. Research has been conducted on the effects of parental eating patterns, parental pressure, and mother’s behavior influencing children’s eating habits, but there is no prior research on where mothers get information about their child’s eating habits.
DESIGN: On the basis of a review of the literature, a mixed-method survey was created and distributed online.
PARTICIPANTS: The survey was sent to two online groups devoted to support for mothers on Facebook (2,846 members). Seventy-two mothers of children ages 6 mo–12 yr, who self-identified as having a child who is a picky eater, participated in the study with 56 completing all quantitative and qualitative questions.
METHOD: Quantitative questions explored demographics, feeding and eating behaviors, and sources of information. Qualitative questions aimed to elicit short written narratives about what strategies mothers have used with their children, descriptions about mealtime, and concerns the mothers have about their child’s picky eating.
ANALYSIS: Descriptive statistics and cross-tabulations were used to analyze quantitative responses. Qualitative responses were analyzed using thematic analysis to enrich the findings from the quantitative data.
RESULTS: Of mothers who identified as having a picky eater, 61% were concerned about their child’s eating. Mothers got information about picky eating from a variety of sources. Most accessed (n = 72) were pediatrician (18%), websites (18%), and online forums (14%). Most helpful (n = 72) were pediatrician (20%), websites (20%), online forums (15%), and friends (11%).
Qualitatively, mothers reported being at a loss for information and regularly searching for more information. They were concerned about lack of nutrition, poorly balanced diet, and children’s growth. Mealtime concerns included changes in eating patterns, gagging/vomiting, limited foods, and sensory issues.
DISCUSSION: Many mothers are concerned about their children’s picky eating habits and are looking for resources online and in pediatricians’ offices to help expand their children’s diets and decrease negative mealtime behaviors.
IMPACT STATEMENT: Occupational therapists have valuable knowledge about children’s sensory, oral motor, and activities of daily living functions that may help families improve mealtime with a child who is a picky eater. Informing pediatricians of our ability to assist children with eating concerns and using online forums and websites to share information may best reach parents who are searching for help in this area.
Horodynski, M. A., Stommel, M., Brophy-Herb, H., Xie, Y., & Weatherspoon, L. (2010). Low-income African American and non-Hispanic White mothers’ self-efficacy, picky eater perception, and toddler fruit and vegetable consumption. Public Health Nursing, 27, 408-417.
Mascola, A. J., Bryson, S. W., Agras, W. S. (2010). Picky eating during childhood: A longitudinal study to age 11 years. Eating Behaviors, 11, 253–257.
van der Horst, K. (2012). Overcoming picky eating. Eating enjoyment as a central aspect of children’s eating behaviors. Appetite, 58, 567–574.