Parents whose children are fussy eaters can rest easy in the knowledge that it’s not all their fault.
Researchers from the UK and Norway looked at more than 1,900 families with twins aged 16 months to see if genetics were involved in picky eating.
The analysis showed a child’s tendency to be picky about eating is heavily influenced by their genetic makeup and not just their upbringing.
“That these traits were so significantly influenced by genes so early on really indicates how innate the tendency is, and that it is not because of the parents that are kind of moulding [children] into fussy eaters – it is already there when they are 16 months old,” said Andrea Smith, PhD student and lead author of the research from University College London, according to The Guardian.
Researchers behind the study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, asked parents to complete a questionnaire that investigated the eating habits of their twins.
They looked at how similar the results were from the identical twins (who share all the same genes) and fraternal twins (who share around 50% of genes).
Results showed that genes played a “key role” in the eating behaviour of kids.
The researchers found that 46% of food fussiness was explained by genes and 58% of food neophobia (defined as the rejection of new foods) was explained by genes.
They noted that environmental factors had a bigger influence on fussy eating than it did food neophobia.
Therefore, they concluded that although genetics does play a part in food fussiness, parental actions can still influence a toddler.
“We know that genes are not our destiny,” Smith added. “Parents can positively influence their child’s eating behaviours.”
Dr Faye Powell, a developmental psychologist at the University of Bedfordshire specialising in children’s eating behaviour, said although genetics play a part, food fussiness is also down to individual differences between children.
“Genetics play a small part and could make you more predisposed, but it’s an individual’s differences and their experiences of food that will trigger picky eating,” she told The Huffington Post UK.
“Children’s taste preferences start in the utero, so even when a child is in the embryonic phrase, the more variety a mother has during pregnancy, the more they are likely to accept those foods when they’re born.
The same is with breast milk, flavours such as garlic and vanilla can be tasted through that.”
Powell said children who have ‘heightened sensory sensitivity’ are much more likely to be fussy eaters.
She added: “These children are sensitive to different sensory aversions and textures – it can be rather overwhelming.
“Kids with tactile defensiveness, where they have high oral sensitivity, will be fearful of and unaccepting of foods that are different.”
Dr Jacqueline Blissett, a reader in childhood eating behaviour at the University of Birmingham told HuffPost UK the most important strategy for trying to get children to try new foods is through “modelling” also known as the example that you set to your children at dinner time.
“Watching other people and learning through modelling other people’s behaviour is so important,” she said.
“In all of our studies, we’ve shown if your child is fussy, the most effective way of getting them to try something new is if you’re eating the same thing and modelling it enthusiastically.
“If you’re expecting them to eat broccoli but you’re not eating it, it will be a lot harder to follow through.”