Chew on this: Food fussiness is in the genes

24 October 2016 - 10:47 By Sarah Knapton

Parents of mealtime tearaways can breathe a sigh of relief. The fussy eating of children is largely the result of genetics, not poor parenting, scientists have found.Researchers at University College, London, studied nearly 2000 families with twins to tease apart the genetic and environmental factors behind mealtime meltdowns.They found that food fussiness - children being overly selective about food - could be explained about equally by genetics and environment. But when a child refused to try new food - a trait called "food neophobia" - only 22% was due to the environment.TWO OF A KIND: Studies on twins reveal that genes influence aversion to new foods The rest was genetic, suggesting that parents battle the genetic make-up of their children each time they attempt to introduce a new food."Establishing a substantial genetic influence on both of these traits might be quite a relief to parents as they often feel guilty about their children's fussy eating," said Andrea Smith, who jointly led the research."Understanding that these traits are largely innate might help to deflect this blame."Scientists use identical twins for their studies because they share all the same genes, whereas non-identical twins have an average of 50% shared genetics.So if identical twins show more similarly on a given trait it is evidence that genes significantly influence that trait. However, if identical and non-identical twins share a trait it is probable that the environment has more of an influence.The researchers said that although food fussiness has a strong genetic basis, it does not mean that the behaviour cannot be changed."Genes are not our destiny," said Clare Llewellyn, senior lead researcher in the study."We know of many traits with a strong genetic basis that can nevertheless be changed, such as weight."It would be useful for future research to identify the important environmental shapers of food fussiness and neophobia in young children so that they can be targeted to reduce these behaviours."Holly Harris, of the UCL Health Behaviour Research Centre and Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia, said: "Having a child who refuses to eat most foods can be very distressing for a parent."A logical next-step is to work with parents to address their concerns and develop strategies for responding to a child's fussy eating to encourage food acceptance." - ©The Daily Telegraph

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