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What is ARFID in Kids?

Published May 24, 2024

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Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a relatively new diagnosis in the realm of eating disorders, particularly prevalent among kids. Unlike other eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, ARFID is characterized by a limited range of accepted foods, avoidance based on sensory characteristics, fear of aversive consequences, or lack of interest in eating. In this blog, we’ll review ARFID in kids, exploring its symptoms, causes, and potential treatments.

Understanding ARFID in Kids

ARFID manifests as a persistent disturbance in eating or feeding that results in a failure to meet nutritional or energy needs, leading to significant weight loss, nutritional deficiency, dependence on nutritional supplements, or interference with psychosocial functioning. It can affect kids of all ages and often presents with symptoms such as:

  • Extreme pickiness about food texture, color, or brand.

  • Limited variety in food choices, often favoring bland or processed foods.

  • Anxiety or distress when presented with unfamiliar or disliked foods.

  • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, or weight loss due to inadequate nutrition.

Causes and Risk Factors

Several factors contribute to the development of ARFID in kids, including:

  1. Sensory Sensitivities: Some kids may have heightened sensory sensitivities, making certain textures, tastes, or smells aversive and leading to food avoidance.

  2. Traumatic Experiences: Traumatic experiences related to food, such as choking incidents or food poisoning, can trigger fear or anxiety around eating.

  3. Gastrointestinal Issues: Kids with gastrointestinal conditions like reflux or food allergies may develop aversions to certain foods due to negative associations with discomfort or pain.

  4. Anxiety or OCD: Underlying anxiety disorders or obsessive-compulsive tendencies can contribute to rigid eating patterns and food avoidance behaviors.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing ARFID in kids involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional, including a medical history, physical examination, and assessment of eating behaviors. Treatment approaches may include:

  1. Nutritional Counseling: Working with a registered dietitian to develop a balanced meal plan that accommodates the child's preferences and nutritional needs.

  2. Exposure Therapy: Gradual exposure to new or avoided foods in a supportive environment to desensitize sensory aversions and expand the child's food repertoire.

  3. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Addressing underlying anxiety or fear-based beliefs around food through CBT techniques to help kids develop more positive attitudes and behaviors toward eating.

  4. Family-Based Therapy: Involving the family in treatment to create a supportive mealtime environment, reduce mealtime stress, and encourage healthy eating habits.

Research and Statistics

  1. A study published in theJournal of Abnormal Psychology found that ARFID is associated with high levels of anxiety and sensory sensitivities in kids, underscoring the importance of addressing these factors in treatment.

  2. Research inPediatrics revealed that kids with ARFID are at risk of nutritional deficiencies and growth impairments due to inadequate food intake.

  3. According to theNational Eating Disorders Association, ARFID affects up to 5% of kids, making it one of the most common eating disorders among children and adolescents.


ARFID in kids is a complex eating disorder characterized by selective eating, avoidance of certain foods, and significant nutritional deficits. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for addressing underlying factors, promoting healthy eating habits, and preventing long-term complications. 


  1. Journal of Abnormal Psychology: "Anxiety and Sensory Over-Responsivity in ARFID" (2018)
  2. Pediatrics: "Nutritional Deficiencies in Kids with ARFID" (2019)
  3. National Eating Disorders Association: "Prevalence of ARFID in Kids"