Genetics or Environment?

The Lempert Report
May 13, 2014

When it comes to kids and food, what drives their likes or dislikes?

When it comes to kids and food, what drives their likes or dislikes? Genetics or environment?  According to a recent report from University College London, while genetic and environmental effects are both significant in predicting food preferences in children, the environment has a larger influence on energy-dense foods like snacks, dairy and starches whereas genetics have a stronger influence on nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables and protein.
This study focused on a large group of UK twins born in 2007– and looked at preferences for 114 foods. Researchers say that by looking at twins it’s easier to observe which variation in a population can be explained by genetic or environmental factors. Results showed that vegetables were the least liked, followed by dairy, protein and starch. Not surprisingly, snacks (chocolate, cookies, ice cream and chips) were the most liked. Genetics were found to only have a moderate influence on starch, snacks and dairy. Vegetable preferences and protein, on the other hand, were strongly influenced by genetics. Meanwhile the shared home environment had a significant influence on preferences for snacks, starches and dairy and only moderate influence on fruits, vegetables and protein.
The study’s author, Dr. Alison Fildes says; “The findings of this study show that while the home environment is very influential, particularly in shaping children's liking for energy dense snacks and starchy foods, the extent to which children like some other foods such as fruits, vegetables and protein foods is highly heritable.”  But she also wants to make it clear, this does not mean parents can’t intervene. For parents the important note to remember is that the influence of inherited food preferences does not mean environmental interventions are insignificant – especially when it comes to energy-dense snacks.
This is also an important note for retailers to remember; food within the home environment is impactful when it comes to the development of children's food preferences. Parents need to be supported and given guidance and supermarket can step in here. Healthful foods should be on display in ways that easily identify their nutritional benefits. Furthermore, why not have tips, techniques and recipe ideas to help increase a child’s liking for healthy foods like vegetables, on display for parents? Also prepared meals that are nutritious and healthy should be available to help families get through the busy week.  Studies like this one become opportunities for supermarkets to step up and help families by being a community source of knowledge and guidance.