- Fussy eating habits in toddlers significantly influenced by their
- Children respond differently when faced with new foods having
different appearance, texture and flavor.
- Some toddlers are naturally more cautious than others to try out
- Bad parenting or upbringing not to blame, say scientists.
have it in their genes, says a recent
study undertaken by researchers at the University of London.
Aim of the Study
Researchers at the University of London embarked on the study to investigate the influence of
genetics on the eating habits of toddlers
‘Parents need not feel guilty or blame themselves for their toddler’s picky eating habit.’
Earlier studies have underscored the influence of
genes on the eating behaviors in older children and
, but the new research, aims to show that
such genes exert a significant influence from a much younger age.
The study involved more than 1,900 families
aged 16 months. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire which probed the
eating habits of their toddlers, with questions that asked whether their
children enjoyed eating various types of foods and if they were averse to
eating new foods (neophobia).
The researchers analyzed the data and compared the results between
identical twins (who share all their genes), and fraternal or non-identical
twins (who on an average share about 50 percent of their genes only), who are
What the Study
The results of the
study revealed that fussy eaters were
also more likely to refuse unfamiliar foods (neophobia), with many of the
environmental and genetic factors common to both traits
namely fussy eating
More interestingly, the results indicate that genetic make-up
plays a key role in the eating habits of the toddlers. "At 16 months we found
that overall 46% of the variation in food fussiness was explained by genes, and
we found that 58% of food neophobia (rejection of new foods) was explained by
genes," said Smith, lead author of the study.
The fact that such
pickiness relating to trying out new foods existed even at 16 months of age shows how innate the tendency is, says
It is difficult to
say exactly which genes are involved in fussy eating and the refusal of new
foods, but Smith states that many genes are likely to play a role.
"There will never
been one gene which is the food fussiness genes - they are a lot of different
ones," she said. "These genetic effects might be working through slight differences
in personality in eating behaviors, in how sensitive
individuals are to texture and flavors, to how extroverted
and how open they are to new situations."
However, she adds that environmental influences such as home
setting can play an equal part in fussy eating as much as genetic influences
but has much lesser influence on
neophobia, where genetic influences are far more significant
Lessons to be Learnt From the Study
The results reveal
that though genetic influences may outweigh environmental influences overall, parental actions and modifications of
the home environment could still affect toddler's eating
"We know that genes
are not our destiny," said Smith. "Parents can positively influence their
child's eating behaviors."
professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, who did not
participate in the study, concurs that the results of the study take a lot of
guilt and pressure off the parents.
"Every kid is
different," he said. "There is a genetic tendency to be more or less fussy."
But, he adds that such eating habits are not impossible to change, and parents
can exert a positive influence. "You can modify it by changing the family's
habits, the way you present food to the child and the whole concept of the
mealtime," he said.
How to Make Fussy Kids Eat Better
Dealing with a
toddler who is a fussy eater or outright refuses to try out new foods can be
very distressing for the parents, especially the mother. The following tips may
help in minimizing the ordeal for the kids as well as the parents.
- Adhere to a meal
routine - Allowing the child to snack in between meals might reduce
- Serve smaller
portions and give them the opportunity to ask for more.
- Your child may
just not be hungry. Don't force it to eat, or offer a favorite
food as reward for cleaning the plate.
- Serve new foods
along with your child's favorite food. Give the child time to
experiment new foods. Some children need several exposures to a new food
before deciding to actually eat it.
- Make the plate colorful. Serve healthy
foods with a dip or sauce. Foods can also be cut into attractive shapes
and sizes using cookie cutters.
- Encourage the
child to get involved in choosing foods at the supermarket and
at home while cooking.
- Minimize distractions such as
television during mealtimes.
- Avoid cooking
separate meals for the child. That will only reinforce their
- Desserts or
sweets may be made a part of the meal say, twice or thrice a
week. withholding desserts will only increase the child's craving for
sweet and sugary foods.
- Last but not the
least, parents should set an example by eating various types of
healthy food themselves.
It might be fitting to conclude with the remarks of one of
the study authors, 'Parents often comment on how different their children are,
and so it makes sense that they vary their parenting strategies to suit each
- Children's Nutrition - (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948?pg=2)