Introducing a variety of solid, textured foods before the age of 10 months may prevent children from developing feeding problems at 7 years old and excluding several food categories, including fruits and vegetables from all categories, study findings suggest.

Among children followed from birth, picky eating was more prevalent among those who were not fed solid, textured foods by the age of 9 months compared with those who had been introduced to such foods when they were 6 to 9 months old, report Professor Helen Coulthard and colleagues report in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition.

Coulthard, of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and colleagues assessed reports from 7,821 mothers of children born in 1991 or 1992 to determine the children's dietary habits at age 7 years.

The researchers had previously identified an association between delayed introduction of solid, textured foods and feeding problems at 15 months in this group, which included participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

Overall, 12.1 percent of the children were introduced to solid foods when they were younger than 6 months, 69.8 percent were given solid food between 6 to 9 months, and 18 percent, the delayed group, was not introduced to solid, textured foods until 9 months old.

At the age of 7 years, the delayed group ate fewer foods in general, fewer fruits and vegetables, and was more likely to be perceived by their mothers as picky eaters. For example, among the delayed group nearly 77 percent were choosy and 62 percent were difficult eaters, compared with 67 and 51 percent, respectively, among children introduced to solid foods when they were 6 to 9 months old.

The results were not altered when the investigators considered factors such as gender, breast-feeding duration, age at first tooth, feeding difficulties at 6 months, being fed home-cooked, raw, or ready-prepared fruit and vegetables in the first year, or family demographics.

These findings are a "cause for concern" and highlight how early exposure to a variety of tastes and textures plays an important role in the long-term development of food preferences and eating habits, Coulthard and colleagues conclude.