For so long, a child’s refusal to eat green beans or throw a fit over broccoli, has been seen as the fault of parents, and led parents to wonder what they were doing wrong. Now the parents of picky eaters can relax a little. A new study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reveals that pickiness in kids has less to do with how they’re brought up, and more to do with their genetics.
The study, which was in part by Andrea Smith, an Epidemiology PhD. candidate at University College London (UCL), focused on comparing food choices in twins born in 2007 who are part of a larger, long-term study called Gemini. By studying and comparing parental accounts of their children’s eating habits when they were 16 months old, researchers were able to determine the levels of fussiness and refusal of unfamiliar foods in 626 pairs of identical twins and 1306 pairs of fraternal twins. Specifically, the study found that about 46 percent of food fussiness and 58 percent of food refusal ultimately comes down to genes.
While the findings of the study attribute a big part of pickiness to kids’ nature, they don’t necessarily cut nurture entirely out of the equation. “Genes are not our destiny,” said Clare Llewellyn, another of the study’s lead authors and a health psychologist at UCL, in a statement. “We know of many traits with a strong genetic basis that can nevertheless be changed, such as weight. It would be useful for future research to identify the important environmental shapers of food fussiness and neophobia in young children so that they might be targeted to reduce these behaviors.”
So while this new information might let parents off the hook somewhat when it comes to kids’ tendencies to be selective with food, it doesn’t let them off the hook when it comes to changing those tendencies. Whether it’s by cutting carrots into cute shapes (cue the cookie cutters), letting kids choose fruits and veggies on grocery runs, or sneaking vegetables into baked goods, there are plenty of ways for parents to ease kids into being more flexible with their food choices. Of course, if none of those tactics work to get kids eating their veggies, there’s always the option of paying them.