By Zahra Shahtahmasebi
Massey University health researchers are warning of an increasing number of extremely fussy eaters who are obese but nutrient deficient and living on a diet of "beige brigade" foods.
Extreme cases of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFD) involve a diet of highly processed or high-carbohydrate foods such as chicken nuggets, hot chips, bread, and noodles.
Restrictive eaters, especially children, choose food based on colours and textures.
Massey University speech therapist Emily Jones, who helps run the university's ActivEating programme, said more and more parents were reporting fussy eating by their children.
She calls the foods they eat the "beige brigade".
"We're having children who are really picky eaters or ARFID and they're obese.
"We're getting to the stage now where we could have a real health crisis on our hands because children are not having the fruit and veg, they're not having those foods in their diet, it can actually be a problem healthwise, later on."
Children should have a base of 30 different foods that they will eat, Ms Jones said.
Ms Jones said reflux as an infant or starting solid food too late were contributors to children developing ARFID later in life.
Massey University senior lecturer Cath Conlon said having a child with restrictive eating issues could be an emotional experience for the whole family.
"It is a complex problem and what we want to do is unravel it enough so the children can eat a healthy diet."
Dr Conlon said there were things that could be done to improve fussy eating - children were more likely to eat things they had been involved in choosing and preparing.
It was a slow and difficult process, but worth addressing at a young age, Dr Conlon said.
Red flags to know if your child has restrictive eating habits:
- Their diet consists of less than 30 foods
- A liquid heavy diet
- Their diet excludes whole food groups
- A child will only eat foods with a certain texture
What to do if your child is a fussy eater:
- Talk to your GP or a medical professional, such as the team at ActivEating
- Don't force a child to eat anything
- Set boundaries and routines around meal times
- Get children involved in the kitchen and food preparation
- Plant a vegetable garden and have the children help
- Take children grocery shopping and get them involved in choosing different foods