Two interesting studies on eating habits regarding children came out recently. One covers the way genetic variants influence the choice of snacks by children. Certain genes determine the sensitivity to fat, sweet, bitter, etc. leading to snack preference. Another study looked into the relationship between kids’ ability to identify food and then to be able to classify them as healthy or unhealthy.
Sweet, bitter, fat: Genetics play a role in kids’ snacking patterns
In this instance, genetics definitely play a role. Not to say that environment does not have an impact; it does. The University of Guelph sought to determine what impact, if any, genetics have on choice of food by children. Researcher Elie Chamoun documented the daily eating habits of about 50 preschool aged children and found that in most cases, the majority of calories were coming from snacks. Chamoun also found that the snack preference (sweet, salty, etc.) was correlated with genetic variants tied to sensitivity of certain tastes.
“…kids with a sweet tooth, who have the gene related to sweet taste preference, ate snacks with significantly more calories from sugar.”
“…children with the genetic variant related to fat taste sensitivity were found to consume snacks with higher energy density…may have low oral sensitivity to fat and therefore consume more fatty foods without sensing it.”
“…children with the genetic variant related to avoiding bitter vegetables also consumed snacks with high energy density…replacing those healthy veggies with unhealthy snacks…avoiding the healthy ones.”
The reason for this research, according to Chamoun was to help parents, schools, and others to help children to improve their food choices and health.
Descriptive phrases help preschoolers better understand healthy eating
Published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, this recent study was designed to determine how well children could identify food, food pairings, and whether or not foods are healthy.
Lead author of the study, Jody S. Nicholson, PhD at University of North Florida, studied 235 children, ages three to six. To test their food knowledge Nicholson and other researchers used “An assessment tool with 26 pictures of foods and drinks that preschoolers could be offered…items were divided into 13 pairs and were differentiated as high contrast (e.g., carrots vs donuts) and low-contrast (e.g., crackers vs chips.)”
A post-analysis of the data revealed that the ability to categorize food and parings was related to snack choice. Age also factored in, with older kids being better able to identify, categorize, and pair foods. The older children were also better able to identify healthy foods.
This study, like the previous one, was designed to gather more information about how children are making choices regarding food. With the growing obesity rates in children as in adults, making more informed choices regarding food is vital.