NEW YORK, May 6, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- We've all known at least one of them. The kid who refuses to eat anything but macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. The teenager who would rather go on a hunger strike than let a vegetable pass their lips. Or that all-grown-up friend who orders everything "on the side." These fussy eating habits don't always end with childhood and sometimes it's a mystery as to how they start in the first place. A recent Harris Poll turned to Americans to weigh in on the subject.
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,232 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 14 and 20, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.
Where do picky eaters come from?
Whether you sympathize with the behavior or find yourself wondering how a picky eater gets by, so long as you live in America chances are you're not escaping it anytime soon. Eighty-four percent (84%) of Americans agree picky eaters are common in the United States. This compares to just 36% of U.S. adults who say the same about other countries.
So what exactly is it that makes one person picky and another person willing to eat absolutely anything? Is it nature or is it nurture? While the answer may be up for some debate, Americans appear to be in agreement that picky eaters are "made" (71%) rather than "born" (29%). Not too surprisingly, those who are self-proclaimed picky eaters are quicker to pass the buck to nature compared to those who are not so choosy (41% vs. 25%).
Regardless of the nature vs. nurture debate, nearly half of Americans are in agreement that parenting is the most common reason for picky eating (48%), followed by food allergies (31%), and an excess of food options (25%). Parents appear to have no problem shouldering the blame themselves. Those with children in the household are more likely than those without to say parenting is to blame (55% vs. 44%), though they're also more likely to say that picky eaters are "born" (37% vs. 25%).
The generations differ on the most common reasons for picky eating.
Millennials are more likely than any other generation to say eating for general health is the most common reason for the fussy habit (20% vs. 12% Gen Xers, 11% Baby Boomers, & 10% Matures).
In contrast, Matures are more likely to point the finger at managing a medical condition (23% vs. 15% Baby Boomers, 12% Gen Xers, & 11% Millennials).
Those who are not picky eaters themselves are more likely to point to parenting (51%) and non-medical dietary restrictions (e.g., vegetarianism, veganism, kosher, halal) (23%) than picky eaters (37% and 17%, respectively). Meanwhile, picky eaters themselves point to eating for general health (22%) and genetic predispositions (18%) more than those who don't consider themselves finicky (11% and 13%, respectively).
A vast majority of Americans (88%) agree it is good that many restaurants offer children's menus, possibly signaling that Americans aren't too upset by the notion of catering to this behavior, at least among children.
Who are they?
The majority of Americans can pinpoint at least one person in their life with choosy preferences, and only 28% of Americans say they don't know anyone who they'd consider to be a picky eater. Of course, in some cases, the picky eater they're pointing the finger at is themselves.
One-quarter of American adults (26%) self-identify as picky eaters. The behavior may dwindle as we age, however, as Millennials are more likely than any other generation to raise their hands, followed by Gen Xers (36% Millennials vs. 26% Gen Xers, 19% Baby Boomers, & 15% Matures). Fourteen percent identify their spouse as a picky eater and 5% say another adult in their household is picky about food.
Looking to the younger members of the family, 60% of those who have children in the household say at least one of them is a picky eater. Interestingly, those in households with at least one picky adult (either themselves or their spouse) are more likely to have a picky child in the house than those in households without picky role models (26% vs. 21%, respectively).
What do we think of them?
Just how acceptable do Americans find picky eating behaviors? Well, that depends. Overall, 71% say it's normal for children to be picky eaters, while just 35% say the same for adults.
Acceptability is affected by the age of the eater. Majorities of Americans think it's acceptable for children to be picky eaters (74% say acceptable for a child under 7 and 66% for children ages 8-12). Adults are split on how they feel about teenagers with, 50% saying it's acceptable. However, majorities find the behavior unacceptable among adults (61% say not acceptable for adults 18-24 and 62% for adults 25 and older).
Those with children in the house are more likely than those without to find picky eating acceptable in children (82% vs. 70% for children 7 and under; 72% vs. 63% for children ages 8-12).
Not too surprisingly, those who are picky themselves are more tolerant than those who aren't for most age ranges:
Children ages 8-12 – 72% of picky eaters say acceptable vs. 64% of non-picky eaters
Teenagers ages 13-17 – 62% vs. 46%
Young adults ages 18-24 – 52% vs. 35%
Adults ages 25 and older – 54% vs. 32%
With acceptability levels where they are, are picky eaters treated any differently than their non-picky counterparts? Those with a more varied palate might see a few more dinner party invites coming their way, as majorities of Americans say they are more likely to invite friends over for dinner both if they are not picky eaters (59%) and if they do not have children who are picky eaters (53%).
The same goes for dining out, albeit to a lesser extent, as four in ten say they're less likely to dine out with both friends who are picky eaters (41%) and with friends who have children who are picky eaters (40%). And finally, singles beware… Some single picky eaters may have trouble picking up a date, as 43% of Americans say they're less likely to date a picky eater.
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This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United Statesbetween January 14 and 20, 2015 among 2,232 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.
All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.
Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.
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The Harris Poll®#24, May 6, 2015 By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll
About The Harris Poll®
Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, please visit our new website, TheHarrisPoll.com.
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