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The Development of Food Preferences in Children

By Medically reviewed by Dr. Duyen Le.

Food preferences develop early

Indeed, we develop our likes and dislikes for taste and flavor quite early, even before birth. These preferences change as we grow. Sweetness and saltiness are innately preferred. Scientists found that plant-eating animals prefer sweet foods and beverages since the sweetness suggests a high concentration of caloric sugars, and likely, non-toxicity. Bitterness is innately disliked as the majority of bitter substances are likely to be toxic. For survival, plants have developed mechanisms to cope with plant-eating animals while those eaters also developed intense sensory systems to avoid eating poisons. Fortunately, food preferences can change with consistent exposure. Although humans are born with a sweet tooth, we are able to learn to enjoy bitterness with experience.

Little did we know, the food and beverage industry has been using this knowledge to their advantage. With marketing and advertising strategies, they shape unhealthy eating habits in children by promote the development of preferences for health-wrecking foods, which may persist into adulthood.

The role of the food and beverage industry

As healthy as it can be, healthy foods (think broccoli and carrots) does not take up much space in the advertising segment. Children watch advertisement for junk foods all the time, making them susceptible to forming bad eating habits.  5 million dollars is spent every day for the marketing of foods with a high content of sugar, fat, salt, which is absolutely not suitable for the recommended energy intake of children. Studies show that persuasive advertisements can attract very young children, making them crave for unhealthy foods that they haven’t even tasted. As unhealthy food preferences are directly associated with obesity and other health complications, the consequences of such bad advertisements can have a detrimental effect. What’s even more concerning is that there’s almost no regulation of food marketing. The lack thereof allows manufacturers push child-directed marketing of unhealthy foods, contributing to unhealthy food preferences.

What parents can do about this

For all parents, it’s important to learn about current food marketing practices and their associated health consequences. By being well-informed, they can act accordingly, protecting their children from negative media exposure and limit the influence of it on their children’s food choices. Sometimes, children are exposed to unhealthy foods at school. If that’s the case, then you can raise your voice during parent-teacher meetings. Tell the school staff about how the foods may hurt children and offer some healthy alternatives. Get other parents involved if needed. Children need to be surrounded with healthy food choices at an early age to form health eating habits that will benefit them for the rest of their life.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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