Don’t blame your parents if you’re a picky eater
Ever wondered where your eating habits came from? Here’s some food for thought: new research suggests the effects of your childhood on food preferences begins to disappear as kids start to choose their own meals and has no significant influence by late adolescence.
One study looked at nearly 3,000 twins aged 18-19 and assessed them via a self-reporting questionnaire. The participants are part of an ongoing longitudinal study that is examining how genes and environment are related to development.
The individuals shared their opinions on food which was categorized into six groups: fruits, vegetables, meat/fish, dairy, starches and snacks. They found that as a child ages, the effects of genetics on food preference remain moderate and the effects of his or her upbringing on food preferences disappears. Instead, environmental factors are much more responsible for preferences, which means that as the effects of family experiences dissipate by young adulthood, environment plays a much larger role. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
“This study is important because it shows that despite setting good food habits as parents early in life, children are much more susceptible to peer and societal influences in their food choices as they get older,” says Dr. Asit Vora, a pediatrician at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. Likewise, if a child’s parents did not set a good example by providing a well-rounded diet, the child is not destined to always eat poorly if peer and societal influences later in life promote a healthier diet.
“As health care providers, we need to educate both the family and the child on the importance of healthy food choices over the course of their lives,” Dr. Vora says. “Eating veggies aren’t just for kids—it is something the entire family has to partake in. Everyone must also be committed and consistent in promoting healthy eating and staying away from fast/junk food. These kind of actions are a way to minimize the harmful effects of the almost constant bombardment today’s youth experience with regards to poor food choices, i.e. TV commercials and advertisements, peer pressure with junk food and the abundance of unhealthy food choices at school and work.”
Dr. Vora offers the following tips to help make healthy food choices stick:
- Encourage a regular dinner time where every family member sits down together to eat.
- Be aware of the kinds of foods your child is eating when they aren’t home, and regulate the frequency and amount of money he or she spends on junk food.
- Introduce different tastes and flavors to your children. Exposing them to different cuisines at an early age can be an important way to introduce variety and decrease rigid taste palettes, which fixate on high carbohydrate, high fat and sugar and otherwise processed foods.
Dr. Vora also explains it isn’t simply a parent’s task to monitor what children are eating; this is a large-scale project, which means schools and workplaces must also offer healthy food options so children can make the right decisions when it comes to eating.
“Ultimately, it will take a 360-degree approach stemming from the individual, to the family, to the community and to the government to make sure healthy food is affordable, accessible and available. Only then can we try to make healthy food preferences more permanent in our children’s lives.”
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.