Sweet, bitter, fat: New study reveals impact of genetics on how kids snack

February 22, 2018, University of Guelph
Sweet, bitter, fat: Genetics play a role in kids' snacking patterns, study finds
Credit: University of Guelph

Whether your child asks for crackers, cookies or veggies to snack on could be linked to genetics, according to new findings from the Guelph Family Health Study at the University of Guelph.

Researcher Elie Chamoun investigated whether genetic variants in related to sweet preference, fat taste sensitivity and aversion to bitter influence the snacks chosen by preschoolers. He found that nearly 80 per cent of preschoolers in the study carried at least one of these potential at-risk genotypes that could predispose them to poor snacking habits.

"Kids are eating a lot more snacks now than they used to, and we think looking at how genetics can be related to snacking behaviour is important to understanding increased obesity among kids," said Chamoun, a PhD candidate in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences and a member of the Guelph Family Health Study. "This new research could help parents understand how their kids taste, and tailor their diet for better nutritional choices."

Published in the journal Nutrients, the study looked at connections between the genes of the three at-risk taste receptors and linked them to snacking patterns among preschoolers.

The study entailed tracking the day-to-day diets of nearly 50 preschoolers and found that one-third of the kids' diets were made up of snacks. Chamoun also tested the participants' saliva to determine their genetic taste profile.

Chamoun discovered that kids with a sweet tooth, who have the gene related to sweet taste preference, ate snacks with significantly more calories from sugar. They also ate those snacks mostly in the evening.

"It's likely these kids snacked more in the evening because that's when they are at home and have more access to foods with high sugar," said Chamoun.

Elie Chamoun, PhD candidate discusses his research. Credit: University of Guelph

The children with the genetic variant related to fat taste sensitivity were found to consume snacks with higher energy density. People with this genetic variant may have low oral sensitivity to fat and therefore consume more fatty foods without sensing it, said Chamoun.

"Higher-energy density snacks, such as cookies with lots of sugar and fat, have a higher number of calories for their weight. Those are snacks you want to avoid."

The children with the genetic related to avoiding bitter vegetables also consumed snacks with high energy density.

"They might be replacing those healthy veggies with . This is why they may be consuming more energy-dense snacks, because they are avoiding the healthy ones."

This study is the first in an emerging area of nutrition research.

If researchers can establish a solid link between genetics and , then we can create tests that will help parents determine which genetic variants their children have, said Chamoun.

"This could be a valuable tool for parents who might want to tailor their children's diet accordingly. For example, if you know your child has a higher desire for sweet foods based on their genetics, you might be more likely to limit or reduce their accessibility to those foods in the home."

Explore further: Six easy ways to encourage children to eat less sugar

More information: Elie Chamoun et al, Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in Taste Receptor Genes Are Associated with Snacking Patterns of Preschool-Aged Children in the Guelph Family Health Study: A Pilot Study, Nutrients (2018). DOI: 10.3390/nu10020153

Related Stories

Six easy ways to encourage children to eat less sugar

January 11, 2018
A new campaign from Public Health England is urging parents to limit snacks for children to two a day, and 100 calories a piece. The aim is to reduce kids' sugar consumption – according to PHE data, children eat on average ...

Study finds increase in snacking related to parental oversight

July 12, 2016
In a new study examining how parenting contributes to snacking, researchers found that parents who have a hands-off approach to feeding children may unknowingly contribute to an increase in children's snacking.  

Snacking on protein can improve appetite control and diet quality in teens

May 21, 2015
Although eating high-protein, afternoon snacks can aid appetite control in adults, little information exists to guide parents on what types of snacks might benefit their adolescent children. Now, MU researchers have found ...

Food should be marketed as a 'meal' rather than a 'snack' to avoid overeating

October 30, 2017
Marketing food as a 'snack' leads to increased consumption and continued overeating, a new study in the journal Appetite reports.

Look-alike smart snacks: Are they benefiting student nutrition or brand marketing?

October 24, 2016
When Smart Snacks sold in schools-reformulated versions of less nutritious snacks sold in stores—are packaged to look like their commercial counterparts, consumer confusion is likely, compromising dietary health gains and ...

Recommended for you

A low-gluten, high-fiber diet may be healthier than gluten-free

November 16, 2018
When healthy people eat a low-gluten and fibre-rich diet compared with a high-gluten diet, they experience less intestinal discomfort including less bloating. Researchers at University of Copenhagen show that this is due ...

Youth dating violence shaped by parents' conflict-handling views, study finds

November 16, 2018
Parents who talk to their children about nonviolent ways of resolving conflict may reduce children's likelihood of physically or psychologically abusing their dating partners later—even when parents give contradictory messages ...

Why we shouldn't like coffee, but we do

November 15, 2018
Why do we like the bitter taste of coffee? Bitterness evolved as a natural warning system to protect the body from harmful substances. By evolutionary logic, we should want to spit it out.

Dietary fat is good? Dietary fat is bad? Coming to consensus

November 15, 2018
Which is better, a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet or a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet—or is it the type of fat that matters? In a new paper featured on the cover of Science magazine's special issue on nutrition, researchers ...

Low-carb diets cause people to burn more calories

November 14, 2018
Most people regain the weight they lose from dieting within one or two years, in part because the body adapts by slowing metabolism and burning fewer calories. A meticulous study led by Boston Children's Hospital, in partnership ...

Colder, darker climates increase alcohol consumption and liver disease

November 14, 2018
Where you live could influence how much you drink. According to new research from the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, people living in colder regions with less sunlight drink more alcohol than their ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.