The research looked at the habits of twins, including food fussiness and an unwillingness to try new foods, finding it could be, at least partially, due to genetics.
Scientists asked parents of identical twins, who share 100% of their DNA, and fraternal twins, who share 50%, about their children’s eating habits.
They then estimated that nearly half of cases of food fussiness could be due to genetic factors while for more extreme cases of food neophobia, a dislike or fear of trying something new, nearly 60% of cases could be down to genetics.
The findings might provide some comfort to parents struggling to encourage their little ones to try new foods, or to eat a variety of food.
However, the researchers did say that their findings did not mean that children’s behaviour could not be influenced. They said a “parent-led” focus on changing eating habits could be effective at lessening the influence of genetics.
The study was carried out in a partnership between the University College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The researchers took their data from Gemini, which holds information on nearly 2,000 sets of twins born in England and Wales in 2007.
Researchers concluded that there is a “significant genetic influence on food fussiness and food neophobia during early life.”
However, they added: “We know that genes are not our destiny. Parents can positively influence their child’s eating behaviours.”
Advice given by the National Health Service (NHS) to parents who are at a loss when it comes to encouraging their children to be less fussy is to serve up small portions, giving lots of praise if even a little bit of food is eaten.
They are also advised to time meal times carefully to make sure that a child is not too hungry or too tired when they sit down to eat. Patience is also necessary, particularly for those who may have a little one who is naturally a slow eater.
While many parents may offer sweets as a reward for good behaviour, experts within the NHS say this is not a good idea because a youngster might start to associate sweets as being nice and vegetables as nasty. Instead, parents could offer a trip out as a reward, or make time to play a game together.