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Picky Eating in Youngsters Might Be Largely Caused by Genes

FRIDAY, March 22 (HealthDay News) -- If your young children are picky eaters, they may be able to blame it on their genes, according to a new study.

The findings add to growing evidence that genes play an important role in children's eating behaviors, including the tendency to avoid new foods, said the researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"In some respects, food neophobia, or the aversion to trying new foods, is similar to child temperament or personality," study leader Myles Faith, an associate professor of nutrition, said in a university news release.

"Some children are more genetically susceptible than others to avoid new foods. However, that doesn't mean that they can't change their behaviors and become a little less picky," he explained.

The researchers looked at 66 pairs of twins, aged 4 to 7, and found that genes were responsible for 72 percent of the variation kids' tendency to avoid new foods. The rest of the variation was influenced by household and family factors.

Previous studies found that genes explained 78 of the variation in aversion to trying new foods in children aged 8 to 11 and 69 percent of the variation in adults. This suggests that the effect of genes remains relatively constant across all ages.

The researchers also found that in families with heavier parents, children were overweight only if they avoided trying new foods.

"It's unexpected, but the finding certainly invites interesting questions about how food neophobia and temperament potentially shape longer-term eating and influence body weight," Faith said.

The study was published March 21 in the journal Obesity.

To increase children's acceptance of new foods, the researchers said that parents can serve as role models and provide repeated opportunities for their children to try new foods. This might include offering several new foods and letting children decide which ones they want to try.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about kids and food.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, news release, March 21, 2013

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