When does food refusal require professional intervention?

Terence M. Dovey, Claire V. Farrow, Clarissa I. Martin, Elaine Isherwood, Jason C.G. Halford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Food refusal can have the potential to lead to nutritional deficiencies, which increases the risk of a variety of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Deciding when food refusal requires professional intervention is complicated by the fact that there is a natural and appropriate stage in a child's development that is characterised by increased levels of rejection of both previously accepted and novel food items. Therefore, choosing to intervene is difficult, which if handled badly can lead to further food refusal and an even more limited diet. Food refusal is often based on individual preferences; however, it can also be defined through pathological behaviours that require psychological intervention. This paper presents and discusses several different types of food refusal behaviours; these are learningdependent, those that are related to a medical complication, selective food refusal, fear-based food refusal and appetiteawareness-autonomy-based food refusal. This paper describes the behaviours and characteristics that are often associated with each; however, emphasis is placed on the possibility that these different types of food refusal can often be co-morbid. The decision to offer professional intervention to the child and their family should be a holistic process based on the level of medical or psychological distress resulting from the food refusal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-171
Number of pages12
JournalCurrent Nutrition and Food Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2009


  • feeding disorders
  • infantile anorexia
  • tube feeding
  • selective eaters
  • choosey eaters
  • fussy
  • picky
  • food neophobia
  • dietary variety
  • food refusal


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