Picky eating among children can indicate depression and anxiety, researchers at the Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, warned in a new study. The problem could impact health and growth among the children, and also affect the parent-child relationship.

Parents of selective eaters should start intervention in the matter at the earliest, according to the researchers. “The question for many parents and physicians is: when is picky eating truly a problem?" Nancy Zucker, lead author and director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders, said in a statement Monday. “The children we're talking about are not just misbehaving kids who refuse to eat their broccoli.”

The study was conducted on 3,433 children aged between 2 and 6 years. Researchers found that 20 percent of these children were picky eaters. Of these, about 18 percent were categorized as moderately picky and the rest as severely selective eaters.

The findings showed that children, who were severe selective eaters, had more than more twofold chances of being diagnosed with depression. However, the researchers did not find any increased possibility of psychiatric diagnoses among moderately picky eaters.

According to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics Monday, both moderate and severe selective eating was associated with notably elevated symptoms of depression, social anxiety and generalized anxiety.

"These are children whose eating has become so limited or selective that it's starting to cause problems," Zucker said. "Impairment can take many different forms. It can affect the child's health, growth, social functioning, and the parent-child relationship. The child can feel like no one believes them, and parents can feel blamed for the problem."

The researchers advised the parents to get their children checked for such problems. They also noted that certain therapies and interventions can help picky eaters overcome their fear of food and bad memories related to it.