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The Merck Manual reports that “picky eaters” might not eat enough or too much. The child’s pediatrician’s growth charts can help determine whether a young child’s growth and development are on track. Most eating issues in young children don’t persist long enough to cause developmental delays. Parents need to consult their child’s doctor if concerns about appearance or weight are present.

A developmental delay may be diagnosed if the child is behind their peer group in at least one physical, mental, or emotional growth area. Early treatment is considered the best way to progress or catch up to their peers if a child’s development is delayed. Many developmental delays may present in young children, including difficulties with vision, language/speech, motor skills (movement), cognitive skills (thinking), or social/emotional skills.

A significant delay may occur in more than one area. This is called a global developmental delay in children presenting delays that last six months or more. Developmental delays differ from various developmental disabilities, e.g., hearing loss, autism spectrum disorder, and cerebral palsy.

Recent research shows that early childhood eating problems may be linked to developmental delays. NIH reports that children aged three or younger with eating problems were likely to offer lower scores on child development assessments. Parents of children with several eating issues, e.g., pushing food away, gagging when fed, or crying at meals, may consider screening their child for developmental delays.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), early diagnoses of developmental disorders help parents get the tools their children need.

The NIH study generated data from 3,500 children for two years in New York. The researchers used questionnaire responses provided by parents to rate children’s developmental milestone achievements and eating behaviors at 18, 24, and 30 months of age. Children in the study with eating problems early in life were at least twice as likely to fall short of one or more developmental milestones.

Feeding problems weren’t likely to cause the children’s developmental delays. However, resulting problems in development were associated with feeding difficulties, e.g., poor motor skills, communications problems, or undiagnosed neurological matters. Researchers commented that younger children (18-24 months) might temporarily mature more slowly. When the child’s feeding issues persist at or over 30 months of age, they are at greater risk of developmental delay and may benefit from developmental screening.