Study Finds Genetic Explanation For Why Some Kids Are Picky Eaters

girl eating
Researchers claim that smaller plates encourage kids to eat less. Reuters/Rick Wilking

The scene of an imploring parent and their child dodging the choo-choo spoon is all too familiar. Now researchers have discovered the underlying cause of a child's pickiness -- their genes.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina published their findings in the journal Obesity. They gathered 66 pairs of twins between the ages of 4 and 7 and found genes affected 72 percent of the kids and their affinity to avoid new kinds of food while the remaining children were affected by their environment.  

"In some respects, food neophobia, or the aversion to trying new foods, is similar to child temperament or personality," said Myles Faith, lead author and associate professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Public Health. "Some children are more genetically susceptible than others to avoid new foods. However, that doesn't mean that they can't change their behaviors and become a little less picky."

A previous study was undertaken to observe neophobia, the fear of new food, which found 78 percent of 8 to 11-year-olds and 69 percent of adults inherited their repugnance to try new foods.

A surprising outcome in the study was that parents who were heavier, had children who were heavier only if they were picky eaters. 

The Mayo Clinic proposes 10 tips to coax kids to eat healthy. Among them involve parents sticking to routine times for meals and snacks and being patient with a new kind of food because it will take time and repetition.

Studies have shown feeding children omega-3 oils could make them smarter, but parents shouldn't feel overwhelmed because these nutrients are needed in the span of a person's life and not only while they're young.

"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."

The researchers are now looking ahead to explore how neophobia and the personality could impact routine eating and an individual's body weight, potentially giving more insight on obesity.

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