The Common Fear Of Trying New Foods Is Hurting Your Health


By Kirsten Cowart

Food Neophobia is the refusal or fear to try new foods. Though this is a common part of childhood development, it may end up following you to adulthood.  

It is typical behavior for children around the age of 2-3 years old to be picky eaters.  This fear, however, should subside around the age of 5, according to behaviorists.  

A recent study done at the UPV/EHU of children between the ages of 8 and 16 found that those who had neophobia had lower quality diets, greater anxiety and lower self-esteem.

The Research

Edurne Maiz, a Ph.D. student at the UPV/EHU’s Faculty of Psychology, did her study on 831 schoolchildren who were 8-16 years old. The children were asked to fill out a questionnaire where they talked about their willingness to try out new foods.  

The children were also evaluated on a few different levels, including physical health, lifestyle, diet, exercise, their parents dietary styles, anxiety and self-esteem.  “We have found statistically significant differences in many variables.”

Because neophobic behavior greatly decreases the variety of food eaten, these children are much more likely to lack important vitamins and minerals. Eating a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is key to getting a healthy balance of nutrition.  

Why Parenting Style Is Important

Typically, parents control what foods are brought into the home and prepared for their children to eat. They control when, what and how much is served to the kids.  

Parents will often work to get their children to try new foods, however, it is probable that the frustration exerted by parents when a child rejects a new type of food may negatively affect the emotional state of the child.

Unfortunately, becoming frustrated when a child refuses to try something new was also found to create more problems with neophobia.  

In the study, children who struggled with neophobia felt that they had less control over what they ate or didn’t eat because of their parents feeding style when compared with children who were neophilic, or enjoy trying new foods.

“We have deduced,” Edurne Maiz explained, “that parents basically control and stimulate a lot, but a moment comes when they give up because parental suffering is also present in all this.”

Neophobic Tendencies Lead To Anxiety

Neophiliacs (those who enjoyed trying new foods) were much less anxious than the neophobes. The neophobes also scored lower on their self-esteem chart than the neophiliacs, which was measured on 5 levels: social, family, emotional, physical and academic.  

Physically The Children Looked The Same

You may not notice just by looking at a child whether or not they struggle with trying new foods. “This could be due to the fact that there are nutritional supplements which at a given moment can be taken as a food supplement,” said the researchers.  

Be Patient With Children Who Avoid Trying New Foods

The researchers wanted “to send out a message to parents to be patient so that the cases of infant food neophobia do not develop or get worse,” because “it has been seen that there are a considerable number of adults and children who have serious problems because of this,” they explained.  

Be strong and bold with your child, lead them by example, but also “[have] a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere at mealtimes, [let the children] participate in preparing the food and doing the shopping, [use] positive reinforcements and, finally, [be] a good model.”

What do you do to inspire your children to try new things in a stress-free environment? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.  


University of the Basque Country. “The fear of trying new foods may have negative dietary implications.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 August 2015. <>.lleader_34 (1)

Kirsten Campbell
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Kirsten Campbell

Kirsten Cowart is a writer and researcher that has worked in the spiritual, mental health and medical fields.Kirsten enjoys studying and experiencing the benefits of yoga, meditation, nutrition, herbalism, organic gardening and alternative health.She worked hard in 2014 losing over 40 lbs. and has since maintained a healthy lifestyle.Follow her to learn more about her journey on Twitter, Facebook & Youtube!
Kirsten Campbell
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