"It is a provocative theory that the body in some way craves sweets in order to get adequate calories for growth," said Lona Sandon, a registered dietician and an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. "But the study does not prove cause and effect, and the mechanism of this theory is unknown."
In the study, the researchers also tested for biological factors associated with puberty, including sex hormones, and found that they were not associated with sweet preferences. The findings were published in the March issue of Physiology & Behavior.
What does all of this mean for parents who are trying to combat their child's inner Cookie Monster?
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States, and the wide availability of high-calorie, processed snack foods isn't helping. In the study, 40 percent of the participating children were overweight or at risk of being overweight.
About 33 percent of U.S. children ages 6 to 11 are overweight, as are 34 percent of teens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency defines overweight as having a body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) in the 85th percentile or above for a child's height and age.
Parents can try offering fruit, which can be sugary but also nutritious and low in calories. With vegetables, Coldwell suggested, offer sweet teriyaki sauce or raspberry salad dressing for dipping.
And, if children still refuse to eat a particular vegetable, continue to offer it, said Jennifer Williams, associate director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Penn State University.
Research has shown that children may need to be exposed to a food 15 times before they're willing to accept it, she said.
Parents should also remember that a time will probably come when a child can pass the candy aisle without hounding you.
"People worry a lot about their kids having th
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