Picky Eating May Be Genetic
Kids Inherit Fear of Unfamiliar Food, Twin Study Shows
Aug. 8, 2007 -- If your kids fear unfamiliar foods, don't blame your
parenting -- blame your genes.
A study of 10,780 British twins shows food fear to be 78% inherited. Another
22% of food fear comes from environmental factors that affect one twin but not
the other, report Lucy J. Cooke, MSc, of University College London and
"Parents can be reassured that their child's reluctance to try new foods
is not simply the result of poor parental feeding practices but is partly in
the genes," Cooke and colleagues suggest in the Aug. 1 issue of the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The researchers included four items to assess fear of unfamiliar food --
they call it "food neophobia" -- in questionnaires given to parents of
8- to 11-year-old twins as part of the U.K. Twins Early Development Study.
The parents rated statements about their kids on a four-point scale
ranging from "strongly agree to strongly disagree." The questions
- "My child is constantly sampling new foods."
- "My child doesn't trust new foods."
- "My child is afraid to eat things s/he has never had before."
- "If my child doesn't know what's in a food, s/he won't try
The researchers then compared results for fraternal twins (which have
different genetic inheritances) to results for genetically identical twins.
Identical twins were much more likely than fraternal twins to have the same
degree of new-food phobia.
The results indicate "a strong heritable component to variation in
[food] neophobia," Cooke and colleagues conclude. "This is a robust
finding. Genetic research has consistently shown that shared genes rather than
shared experience largely accounts for similarities in behavioral traits
between family members."
Nevertheless, the researchers say parents should not despair if their child
seems to have picky-eater genes.
"Research in laboratory and real-world settings has shown that neophobia
for specific foods can be reduced," Cooke and colleagues note. "New
foods can become familiar, and disliked foods liked, with repeated
The researchers warn that bribing kids to try new foods and punishing them
for not eating are strategies that fail to achieve the intended effect.
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