Building early detection systems for child development problems and normal toddler eating

1 Dec 2007

There is substantial research about the importance of identifying problems early, before they become entrenched. Intervening early in the course of a condition or problem increases the chance of there being a positive outcome; the earlier intervention is commenced, the more likely it is to be effective and less expensive. 

Since early childhood is a time of rapid development in many domains (especially cognition, language, and social-emotional development), delay or dysfunction in these domains at this age is a strong predictor of problems at school and beyond. While significant developmental delay and serious health problems are usually detected in the first years of life, more subtle problems, especially of development and behaviour, are often not detected until the child is entering preschool, or until he/she begins school. 


Feeding young children a healthy diet can be a challenge. Common problems may emerge later in the second year even in children who ate well previously. The developmental progress of the child will influence eating behaviours, with increasing independence and control played out at the dinner table. A decrease in growth velocity after the first year also means the quantity of food required relative to the child’s body size is reduced. To ensure enjoyable and healthy long term eating patterns, parents of toddlers need to make adjustments for the physical, social and emotional needs of their child.

  • Many toddlers are picky eaters and food often becomes a source of conflict. Some commonly expressed concerns about toddler eating include:
  • Multiple food dislikes, even when they have previously enjoyed a food
  • A refusal to try new foods – 'food neophobia'
  • A refusal to increase the texture of foods and gagging or lack of chewing. A preference for fluids and minimal solids
  • Eating little at some meals
  • Meal time tantrums 
  • Getting up and down from the table frequently
  • Needing to be bribed or distracted to eat

It is uncommon for these behaviours to result in growth faltering or nutritional deficiencies in the short term. The recognition that early development of poor eating habits may progress and impact on the incidence of diet related lifestyle diseases means parents should manage these behaviours in a positive and effective way early on. 

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