Is Picky Eating Caused by Genes or Bad Experiences?
Findings from new research might help make mealtime a more positive experience for everyone at the table.
Dealing with picky eaters can be hard, and, as Dr. Daniel Glaser, director of Science Gallery at King's College London points out, "fussy children can grow into fussy adults." New research suggests that both genes and environmental factors can influence eating preferences. Researchers from the UK and Norway who studied the eating behaviors of more than 1,900 pairs of 16-month old twins found that both "fussy eating" and refusing to try new foods are "heavily influenced by the child's genetic makeup."
"We know that genes are not our destiny," said Andrea Smith, lead author of the study. "Parents can positively influence their child's eating behaviors."
Young children have a lot more sweet tastebuds than adults, so they do not taste sharp fruits or bitter vegeables as adults do. Over time, tastebuds develop to tolerate many new flavors. Glaser notes the profound impact of a negative eating experience, a single bad experience with a food though can be enough to give a child a lifelong aversion. Throwing up after eating food, because the food was off or because the child was ill with a bug and would have thrown up without eating, or having a melt-down and still being upset when dinner starts and being faced with spinach at the table, such incidents Glaser says create an almost permanent connection in the brain between those foods and the adverse reaction. He cites psychologist Martin Seligman's research on this topic. Seligman called this theory "sauce-béarnaise syndrome" after his own early negative experience with the sauce.