Study: Kids’ Snacking Patterns Are Linked to Genetics

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What kind of snacks does your kid ask for? Fatty crackers, sweet cookies, or veggies? New research says that snack preferences could be linked to genetics. Why is that? The study says that genetic variation in taste receptors may influence kids’ snacking patterns.

Snacking is a major component of eating habits in young children and it’s a substantial source of calories in preschoolers’ diets. Even if there is limited knowledge about the factors that drive snacking patterns, researchers from the Guelph Family Health Study at the University of Guelph, Canada, think that the genetics of taste may help better understand the snacking patterns of children.

Understanding kids’ snacking patterns

Researcher Elie Chamoun investigated whether genetic variants in taste receptors related to sweet preference, fat taste sensitivity, and aversion to bitter green leafy vegetables influence kids snacking patterns.

“Kids are eating a lot more snacks now than they used to, and we think looking at how genetics can be related to snacking behavior is important to understanding increased obesity among kids. This new research could help parents understand how their kids taste and tailor their diet for better nutritional choices,” said Chamoun.

The study entailed tracking the day-to-day diets of 47 preschoolers from 38 families and found that one-third of the kids’ diets were made up of snacks. Saliva was collected and body mass index (BMI) was measured to determine their genetic taste profile. Also, preschoolers’ dietary intake from snacks was assessed using parent-completed three-day food records.

The findings show that nearly 80 percent of preschoolers in the study carried at least one potential vulnerable genotype that could predispose them to bad snacking habits.

Sweet, fat, and avoiding bitter taste

The team discovered that kids with a sweet tooth, who have the gene related to sweet taste preference, ate snacks with significantly more calories from sugar. They also ate those snacks mostly in the evening, because that’s when they are at home and have more access to foods high in sugar.

The children with the genetic variant related to fat taste sensitivity were found to consume snacks with higher energy density. People with this genetic variant may have a low oral sensitivity to fat and therefore consume more fatty foods without sensing it.

The children with the genetic variant related to avoiding bitter taste, including bitter vegetables, also consumed snacks with high energy density. The explanation may be that they want to replace healthy veggies with unhealthy snacks.

Chamoun says that linking the kids snacking patterns to genetics could be a valuable tool for parents who might want to tailor their children’s diet accordingly.

If you know your child has a higher desire for sweet foods based on their genetics, you might want to limit or reduce their access to those foods at home.

You may also want to read What to Eat If You Want to Quit Sugar.

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