Obesity in childen is on the rise at an alarming rate. A question that arises in the meantime is: what factors affect a child's willingness to accept foods, especially healthier choices?
Is it right to say that early exposure to a food can influence that child's acceptance of that food later on? One study wanted to find out. They wanted to see whether a child's exposure to more fruits and vegetables or nutrient poor food at 14 months of age would influence the child's preferences at 3.7 years of age. Researchers found that a greater exposure to fruits and vegetables at 14 months corresponded to higher intakes of these foods at 3.7 years of age. This pattern was also seen with nutrient-poor foods that were higher in sugar, fat, or sodium. 1
Interestingly, they found that children who tried more vegetables at age 14 months were less fussy about eating vegetables at 3.7 years of age.
The conclusion was that early exposure can influence a child's food preferences later on in life. Clearly, it may never be too early to promote healthier diets in children. In fact, one study concluded it can start as early as the weaning (and to a lesser extent even the pre-weaning) stage. 2
Many similiar studies show that those early days are crucial. What parents do at the beginning can have a lasting effect on a child's habits well into adulthood.
Just how early do these influences start?
Is it possible to trace origins of taste preferences back to as early as the womb? Yes. As taste buds and the olfactory system develop during the first trimester, a fetus is exposed to taste through the amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid has molecules from the mother's diet.3 This is likely the first "taste" experience the fetus has ever had.
While there are other social and environmental factors at play in a person's taste preferences, the biological factor is not to be underestimated. In fact, one study that is currently underway is comparing early exposure to obesity risk. Currently, it finds that exposure in utero may cause permanent effects on developing tissue that may influence risk for chronic disease later in life. 4
Interestingly, some have found that diet patterns and food habits tend to stabilize as early as ages 3 to 4. Therefore, early childhood is a time when a child is most likely to accept new foods. It is a unique opportunity for parents to promote a healthy, varied diet.
This shows just how important it is for a child to be on the right track as early as possible, from the initial stages of learning to eat.
1. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Apr;116(4):630-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.06.006. Epub 2015 Jul 18.
2. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 May;11(3):315-9. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e3282f9e228.
3. Ventura A & Worobey J. Early Influences on The Development of Food Preferences. Curr Biol 2013; 23: R401–408.
4. Muniandy ND, Allotey PA, Soyiri IN, Reidpath DD. BMJ Open. 2016 Nov 15; 6(11):e011635.