Despite the surge in studies on fussy eating in recent years, anxiety as an associated factor is generally not considered, even though children with fussy eating and those with neurodevelopmental disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often have higher levels of anxiety than typically developing children. The current study investigated changes in anxiety scores during a Taste Education intervention, a seven-week school-based intervention for 71 children with fussy eating. Comparisons were made based on neurodevelopmental status (between children with (n = 30) and without (n = 41) neurodevelopmental disorders). Participants were paired based on age, sex, and neurodevelopmental disorder. The Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (MASC) was administered at delayed intervention (for those waiting 7 weeks before starting the intervention), pre-intervention, post-intervention, and at six-month follow-up. Results did not indicate elevated anxiety based on mean MASC T-scores. MASC Total T-scores ranged from slightly elevated to average, decreasing significantly between pre-intervention and post-intervention, plateauing at six-month follow-up. Significant reductions between measurement points were seen for the physical symptoms, social anxiety, and separation anxiety subscales, but not for harm avoidance. Repeated measures analysis of variance with neurodevelopmental disorders as between-subjects factors did not reveal a significant interaction effect between neurodevelopmental disorders and changes in MASC Total score or subscales. The results indicated that our food-based intervention did not elevate MASC scores in fussy eating children, with or without neurodevelopmental disorders.
Keywords: ADHD; anxiety; autism spectrum disorder; behavior change; food skills; fussy eating; health and wellness; neurodevelopmental disorders; nutrition education; teaching kitchens.