From: Reuters
Published August 29, 2007 07:15 AM

He has your... fear of veggies

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - British researchers have provided an explanation for why some children hate to try new foods -- it's in the genes.


In a large study of identical and fraternal twins, researchers from University College London found that nearly 80 percent of children's tendency to avoid unfamiliar foods was inherited.


"Parents can be reassured that their child's reluctance to try new foods is not simply the result of poor parental feeding practices, but it is partly in the genes," said Dr. Lucy Cooke and her team.


However, they added, repeatedly offering foods to children can make the foods more familiar, and eventually even liked.


Both humans and other animals show a reluctance to try new foods which is known scientifically as "food neophobia."


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This avoidance may have had an evolutionary advantage in preventing exposure to potentially toxic foods, the researchers note in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


"In the modern environment where foods are generally safe to eat, neophobia appears principally to have an adverse effect on food choices, particularly on intake of foods and vegetables," they say.


To investigate the role of inheritance and upbringing in food neophobia, Cooke and her team surveyed the parents of 5,390 twin pairs aged 8 to 11. Studying twins allows researchers to separate out the effects of genes and environment.


Identical twins were much more likely to share tendencies toward food neophobia than fraternal twins were, the researchers found, with inheritance accounting for 78 percent of these tendencies.


Shared environment had no effect, with the remaining 22 percent influenced by non-shared environmental factors.


Past studies of other behavioral similarities among family members have also found they are strongly influenced by genes and "surprisingly little" by the shared environment, Cooke and her colleagues note.


But laboratory research has shown that the more frequently children are offered a particular food, the more likely they are to come to like it.


"New foods can become familiar, and disliked foods become liked, with repeated presentation, although the process might be more laborious with a highly neophobic child," they write.


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