Purpose of review
There are concerns about the rising incidence of obesity in children and their acceptance of healthy foods. Many factors affect children's food acceptance, the most salient are those enabling early exposure to culturally appropriate foods in the weaning or pre-weaning period. Parents, however, have always observed individual differences in children's willingness to take new foods. This review looks at studies that encompass both exposure to and genetic determinants of food acceptance.
Children's willingness to take new foods and accept specific foods has strong-to-moderate heritability. This inherited willingness is moderated by cultural differences in early exposure to both the taste and texture of foods, giving rise to different patterns of food acceptance. Breast-feeding not only confers an advantage in food and taste acceptance but may also give rise to a preference for highly palatable ‘junk food’. Modelling and flavour-conditioning may also contribute to food acceptance, whereas coaxing a child to eat may impact negatively on the intake of food. Children of obese mothers, however, react to prompting by overeating rather than food refusal. This may indicate another area where food acceptance is genetically determined.
Health intervention programmes that aim to promote a healthy diet in children should start at the weaning and, to a lesser extent, the pre-weaning stage, and target maternal diet for optimal effectiveness.