Childrens' preference for sweet-tasting foods is linked to their physical growth, according to a new study.
The study has been conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and the Monell Center.
"The relationship between sweet preference and growth makes intuitive sense because when growth is rapid, caloric demands increase. Children are programmed to like sweet taste because it fills a biological need by pushing them towards energy sources," said Monell geneticist Danielle Reed, PhD, one of the study authors.
Kids prefer higher levels of sweetness in their foods as compared to adults, a pattern that declines during adolescence.
In order to explore the biological underpinnings of this shift, Reed and University of Washington researcher Susan Coldwell, PhD, looked at sweet preference and biological measures of growth and physical maturation in 143 children between the ages of 11 and 15.
The findings suggest that children's heightened liking for sweet taste is related to their high growth rate and that sweet preferences decline as children's physical growth slows and eventually stops.
Based on the results of sensory taste tests, children were classified according to their sweet taste preference into a 'high preference' or 'low preference' group.
Children in the 'low preference' group also had lower levels of a biomarker (type I collagen cross-linked N-teleopeptides; NTx) associated with bone growth in children and adolescents.
"This gives us the first link between sweet preference and biological need. When markers of bone growth decline as children age, so does their preference for highly sweet solutions," said Reed.
Other biological factors associated with adolescence, such as puberty or sex hormone levels, were not associated with sweet preference.
The study has been reported in the journal Physiology and Behavior.