Picky Eater? Genes May Be to Blame
Study Shows Genetics May Play Role in Children's Food Preferences
WebMD News Archive
April 9, 2008 -- Parents of picky eaters, take heart: It is not your
cooking. A new study of twins shows that children who turn up their noses at
certain foods may simply be "programmed" to do so.
Myles Faith, PhD and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania School of
Medicine and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia evaluated the eating
patterns of more 792 twins aged 7 years old. The researchers found that
genetics mostly dictates a child's picky palate and cravings for items like
peanut butter and jelly. The findings support earlier animal experiments and
adult twin studies that linked eating behaviors to genetics.
"To our knowledge, this is one of the largest investigation[s] to
document genetic influences on the 24-[hour] food and beverage intake of
prepubertal children, which suggests that genes may contribute considerably to
... children's eating patterns," the authors write in the April issue of
the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The study group included both identical and fraternal (non-identical) twins.
The children's parents provided information regarding what each child ate and
drank the previous day, including serving size. Researchers grouped foods into
nine categories: bread and butter; peanut butter and jelly; breakfast cereal and milk;
fruit; red meat and pork; vegetables; candy; fish and lemon; and high-salt
Genetics seemed to influence boys' choice of food and beverages more often
than in girls. Boys ate a lot more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches than
girls, who showed no genetic preference for this type of meal. Identical twins,
who have the exact same genes, seemed to choose more similar foods and
beverages than non-identical twins.
Shared environmental factors, such as the number of snacks in the home, had
a greater influence on the girls' food and beverage choices.
Understanding why a child rejects or embraces certain foods may help ease
the frustrations of millions of parents who struggle every day to get their
child to eat -- if only to assure them that it is not their fault. Such
research may also help scientists determine if genetically dictated eating
patterns play a role in childhood obesity.
Results from this study suggest that a child's body mass index was generally
unrelated to their specific food consumption. But the study's researchers
caution that further studies are needed to determine if genetically influenced
eating habits result in calorie and nutrition changes that lead to obesity.
(Were you a
picky eater as a child? What food would you just not eat? Share with others
on WebMD's Picky Eaters:
Member to Member board.)