Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Are you having to force feed your child carrots and broccoli to ensure their diet isn’t solely based on plain-and-dry McDonald’s cheeseburgers? Well, a new study suggests bad parenting may not be why your child is a picky eater, but rather, it may be because of their genes.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say fearing new foods, or food neophobia, is similar to a child’s temperament or personality.
“Some children are more genetically susceptible than others to avoid new foods,” said Myles Faith, an associate professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t change their behaviors and become a little less picky.”
Researchers looked at 66 pairs of twins between the ages four and seven years old, and found genes explained 72 percent of the variation among children in the tendency to avoid new foods. They examined the relationship between food neophobia and body fat measurements in both parent and child. They found 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 authors suggest parents should consider each child’s idiosyncrasies when thinking about how to increase a child’s acceptance of new foods. They say 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.
“Each child may respond differently to each approach, and research needs to examine new interventions that take into account children’s individuality,” said Faith. “But what we do know through this and other emerging science is that this individuality includes genetic uniqueness.”
Previous studies have shown a similar genetic influence for food neophobia in 78 percent of children and 69 percent of adults, which suggests the impact of genes on food neophobia is constant across the developmental spectrum.
Sneaking vegetables and fruits into a child’s food isn’t a great strategy to overcome this phobia either. Scientists wrote in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior picky eaters are less apt to like food they are unfamiliar with, even if the new food has been snuck into past meals by parents.
Researchers do suggest parents may want to try adding a little more color to a child’s meal to entice them to eat more nutritionally. Cornell University scientists found children were more attracted to food with color, particularly food plates with seven different items and six different colors.
“What kids find visually appealing is very different than what appeals to their parents,” said Brian Wansink, professor of Marketing in Cornell´s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. “Our study shows how to make the changes so the broccoli and fish look tastier than they otherwise would to little Casey or little Audrey.”