Objectives: The extent to which variation in taste perception influences food preferences is, to date, controversial. Bitterness in food triggers an innate aversion that is responsible for dietary restriction in children. We investigated the association among genetic variations in bitter receptor TAS2R38 and food choices in healthy children in the Mediterranean area, to develop appropriate tools to evaluate the relation among genetic predisposition, dietary habits, and feeding disorders. The aims of the study were to get a first baseline picture of taste sensitivity in healthy adults and their children and to explore taste sensitivity in a preliminary sample of obese children and in samples affected by functional gastrointestinal diseases.
Methods: Individuals (98 children, 87 parents, 120 adults) were recruited from the general population in southern Italy. Bitterness sensitivity was assessed by means of a suprathreshold method with 6-propyl-2-thiouracil. Genomic DNA from saliva was used to genotype individuals for 3 polymorphisms of TAS2R38 receptor, A49P, A262 V, and V296I. Food intake was assessed by a food frequency questionnaire.
Results: Children's taste sensation differed from that of adults: we observed a higher frequency of supertasters among children even in the mother–child dyads with the same diplotypes. Among adults, supertaster status was related with proline-alanine-valine (taster allele) homozygous haplotype, whereas supertaster children were mainly heterozygous. Regarding the food choices, we found that a higher percentage of taster children avoided bitter vegetables or greens altogether compared with taster adults. Taster status was also associated with body mass index in boys.
Conclusions: Greater sensitivity to 6-propyl-2-thiouracil predicts lower preferences for vegetables in children, showing an appreciable effect of the genetic predisposition on food choices. None of the obese boys was a supertaster.
*Department of Pediatrics, University of Naples “Federico II,” Naples, Italy
†University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo-Bra (CN), Italy.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Rossella Negri, PhD, European Laboratory for Food Induced Diseases, University of Naples, Naples, Italy (e-mail: email@example.com).
Received 14 July, 2011
Accepted 30 November, 2011
The authors report no conflicts of interest.