Genes may be reason kids are picky about food

Child food

The reason some kids fear new foods has less to do with what's on their plate and more to do with their genes, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that genes play a significant role in children's eating behaviour, including the tendency to avoid new foods.

"In some respects, food neophobia, or the aversion to trying new foods, is similar to child temperament or personality," said lead researcher Myles Faith.

"Some children are more genetically susceptible than others to avoid new foods. However, that doesn't mean that they can't change their behaviours and become a little less picky," she said in the study published in the journal Obesity.

The study looked at 66 pairs of twins between ages 4 and 7 years old, and found that genes explain 72 per cent of the variation among children in the tendency to avoid new foods, while the rest was influenced by environment.

Previous research has shown a similar genetic influence for food neophobia in 8-to-11-year-olds (78 per cent) and adults (69 per cent), suggesting that the impact of genes on food neophobia is constant across the developmental spectrum.

Faith and his team also examined the relationship between food neophobia and body fat measures in both parent and child. Unexpectedly, the researchers found that if the parent was heavier, the child was heavier only if he or she avoided trying new foods.

"It's unexpected, but the finding certainly invites interesting questions about how food neophobia and temperament potentially shape longer-term eating and influence body weight," said Faith.

The findings suggested that parents should consider each child's idiosyncrasies, even for siblings in the same household, when thinking about how to increase a child's acceptance of new foods.

For example, parents can serve as role models and provide repeated exposure to new foods at home, or show their child how much they enjoy the food being avoided. They might also provide a choice of several new items from which a child could select, the research said.

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