Behavioral Therapy Offers Help and Cure for Picky Eaters

by Iswarya on  October 22, 2019 at 1:22 PM Research News
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Cognitive-behavioral therapy program provides parents with distinct techniques to improve their child's mealtime behaviors, and increase the range of foods their kids eat, reports a new study. The findings of the study are published in the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Practice .
Behavioral Therapy Offers Help and Cure for Picky Eaters
Behavioral Therapy Offers Help and Cure for Picky Eaters

Families dealing with the stress and frustration of their child's overly picky eating habits may have a new addition to their parental toolbox. Although the study size was small, the parents involved reported "life-changing" improvements.

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"Our research shows the acceptability, feasibility and positive outcomes of the Picky Eaters Clinic, a seven-session, parent-only, group-based intervention intended to train parents of children with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)," said study leader Katherine Dahlsgaard, PhD, ABPP, Clinical Director of the Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at CHOP. "In the Clinic, parents are taught to act as behavioral therapists who promote long-term improvements in food acceptance and positive mealtime behaviors."

This study included 21 patients and their parents, who were referred to the Picky Eaters Clinic at CHOP. Families, including the child, attended a diagnostic evaluation and were assessed for treatment eligibility. The children ranged in age from 4 to 12 years and were diagnosed with ARFID, due to excessive picky eating and associated functional impairment.

The families reported that picky eating caused considerable stress. Parental stress resulted from diet containing less than 20 foods; refusal of entire food groups (typically vegetables, meats or fruits); the need to make a separate meal; difficulty traveling, socializing or going to restaurants; high child distress/refusal to eat when presented with a new or non-preferred food; and lack of child's motivation to change or unwillingness to receive treatment.

The seven clinic sessions occurred over a 6-month period. The first four sessions were held one week apart; the fifth and sixth were spaced two 3 to 4 weeks apart, allowing families time to practice the assigned behavior strategies at home. Children were challenged at home to chew and swallow a portion of new or non-preferred food, and a successful challenge resulted in a post-meal reward. The majority chose screen time.

The seventh "reunion" session was held three months later, to allow parents to catch up and share gains. The researchers administered post-treatment feeding measures and a parent satisfaction survey at the last sessions.

Dahlsgaard is interested in the long-term effects of the treatment and wants to follow up with the families, now that at least two years have passed since treatment. "I occasionally receive emails from the parents, telling me that their children are trying everything or eating in restaurants with no problem," Dahlsgaard says. "But I'm interested in researching this systematically and reporting on the long-term outcomes for all the families."

Source: Eurekalert

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