Study Finds That Fussy Eating is in our Genes

Friday, 14th October, 2016

A new study has revealed that parents might not have to blame themselves for their child’s fussy eating habits.

Researchers from Britain and Norway studied more than 1,900 families who had 16 month old twins to see if picky eating could be down to genetics.

The study revealed that children’s tendencies to be picky about food is heavily impacted by their own genetic make-up, rather than just the way they’re brought up.

Published in the Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the study invited parents to fill in a questionnaire that looked into their twins’ eating habits. The researchers studied how similar the results were from fraternal twins (who shared approximately 50 percent of genes) and identical twins (who shared all the same genes).

It was found that genes played a significant role in children’s eating behaviours. The researchers discovered that 46 percent of fussy eating habits and 58 percent of the rejection of new foods (neophobia) could be explained by genes.

They also noted that environmental factors had a larger influence on fussy eating than neophobia, which led them to conclude that though genetics does play a role in fussy eating habits, the actions of parents can still influence young children.

Andrea Smith, lead author of the research, said the fact that the traits were linked so significantly with genes at such an early age shows just how innate the tendency actually is. She added that it means fussy eating isn’t just down to how a child is brought up, but it’s already there to start with.

She added that parents can influence their children’s eating habits in a positive way.

According to developmental psychologist Dr Faye Powell, who specialises in children’s eating habits, though genetics do play their part, fussiness in food choices is also related to individual differences between each child. She said that genetics could make someone more predisposed to dislike certain foods, but ultimately a person’s experiences with food is likely to trigger fussy eating.

Dr Powell said that even when a child is in the embryonic phase, they are developing taste preferences. So the more variety a mother consumes during her pregnancy, the more likely the child is to accept these foods when they are born. She said that also, flavours like vanilla and garlic can be tasted through breast milk and children with heightened sensory sensitivity are more likely to be fussy about their food.

Childhood eating behaviour reader Dr Jacqueline Blissett said the most significant way to encourage children to try new foods and flavours is through setting an example at mealtimes. She said that watching others eat and learning behaviours from others is very important and in all of the team’s studies it has been shown that, if a child is a fussy eater, the best way to win them round is to eat the same thing and show enthusiasm about it.