Medical experts have suggested that picky eating in small children could be a sign of serious mental problems that should not be ignored.

Also, those with highly selective eating habits were more than twice as likely as normal eaters to have a diagnosis of depression.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, it was found that more than a fifth of the children were selective eaters.

Of these, nearly 18% were classified as "moderately picky" and about 3% as "severely selective".

Children with both moderate and severely selective eating habits displayed symptoms of anxiety and other mental health problems.

For lead researcher Dr Nancy Zucker, director of the Duke Centre for Eating Disorders in the United States, "the question for many parents and physicians is: when is picky eating truly a problem?"

According to her, "because these children are seeing impairment in their health and well-being now, we need to start developing ways to help these parents and doctors know when and how to intervene."

She further stated that some children who refuse to eat might have heightened senses, causing them to be overwhelmed by the smell, texture and taste of certain foods.

Thus, bad experience with a certain food could lead to anxiety when a child is given something else that is new and untrustworthy.

Zucker added that new remedies were needed for sensitive children with frequent experiences of "palpable disgust".