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Picky Eating in Kids May Be Most Linked with Genetics

Update Date: Mar 21, 2013 02:52 PM EDT

Many children are picky eaters. No matter how parents cajole, plead or bribe them, they do not want to try new foods. New research suggests that convincing children to try new foods may have surprisingly little to do with what is on their plate. In fact, the culprit holding kids back may actually be their genetics.

According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Pennsylvania State University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Louisiana, researchers found that genetics were to blame for picky eating a significant amount of the time. They came to the conclusion by analyzing 66 sets of twins between the ages of four and seven years old.

Though environment was found to have influence on the level of fear that children felt about new foods, 72 percent of the influence came from genetics. That result matches up with the same findings for other age cohorts; genetics could explain 78 percent of picky eating in eight- to 11-year-olds; the genetics link was about 69 percent in adults.

"In some respects, food neophobia, or the aversion to trying new foods, is similar to child temperament or personality," Myles Faith, an author of the study and a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said in a statement. "Some children are more genetically susceptible than others to avoid new foods. However, that doesn't mean that they can't change their behaviors and become a little less picky."

Interestingly, the researchers also looked at the relationship between food neophobia and size by taking body mass index measurements of parents and their children. Obesity in parents generally correlates with obesity in children, but the researchers found that there were exceptions to that trend. For example, if parents were heavier, their children were only heavier if they were picky eaters. As a result, researchers believe that there may be a link between picky eating, long-term eating behaviors and size.

The researchers believe that parents should try to adapt strategies suited to each child in order to address picky eating. For example, some parents can simply show their children how much they enjoy the food to make kids change their mind. Other parents may find that providing a list of new foods to try may work best.

The study was published in the journal Obesity.

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