Children’s Taste Preferences are Forged at Home, Researchers Say

happy baby child eats itself with a spoon

NEW YORK — (DGIwire) — Researchers have determined that a child’s taste preferences are forged at home and most often involve salt, sugar and fat. Moreover, young kids learn quickly what brands deliver the goods. In the journal Appetite, T. Bettina Cornwell of the University of Oregon and Anna R. McAlister of the University of Wisconsin report on their study of preschoolers ages three to five, determining that salt, sugar and fat are what most kids prefer, and that they could already match their preferences to brand-name fast food and soda.

In the research study, 67 children and their mothers were recruited from preschool classes in a large city. The mothers completed a 21-item survey to report on the taste preferences of their children. The children responded to their perceived tastiness of 11 natural and 11 flavor-added foods. The photos of the foods were presented without labeling or packaging. Researchers found strong agreement in that both parental and children’s perceptions matched: Parents noted the desire for foods high in sugar, fat and salt, while their children showed preference for flavor-added foods, which contained these ingredients.

In a second experiment, the researchers explored the association of preschoolers’ palate preferences to their emerging awareness of brands of fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. Participating were 108 children from five urban preschools. Each child was shown 36 randomly sorted cards—12 related to each of two popular fast-food chains, six to each of the two leading cola companies and six depicting irrelevant products. All children were able to correctly place some of the product cards with the correct companies, indicating their differing levels of brand recognition.

The study results, the researchers wrote, suggest that fast food and soda brand knowledge is linked to the development of a preference for sugar, fat and salt in food. The relationships, they added, appeared to reflect the children’s emotional experiences in a way that says the brand-named products deliver their developed taste preferences.

“The research and marketing teams at packaged food companies spend a lot of time and money marketing their high-profit margin products to children,” say sibling health experts Dian Griesel, Ph.D. and Tom Griesel, co- authors of the TurboCharged health book series. “Sadly, many companies are more interested in selling their products than the health, growing obesity issues or long term well-being of our kids.”

“At ages three to five, there is no doubt that the ability to match specific tastes to fast food and soda comes from a combination of parental choices and TV influences,” says Tom. “Parents are often  exposing their children to all sorts of harmful junk food early on without even realizing it.  TV advertisers, on the other hand, know exactly what they are doing.  They spend millions to promote sugar, fat and salt combination foods that are really harmful and undoubtedly linked to the obesity epidemic. All junk foods contain some variation of this combination. Fast food pushers know the power of this preference, as well as how to advertise and package sugar, fat and salt to efficiently and persuasively sell their high-profit-margin ‘foods’ to the masses.”

“Parents need to know how harmful these foods are,” say the Griesels. “They should set proper examples for their children as early as possible. Even young children can’t be tricked into healthier eating choices if their parents continue to eat junk food. It is not simply genetics or heredity that is responsible for fat families and the obesity epidemic. The root cause is incorrect training in food choices that continue to be passed on in families and our society as a whole.”

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