Genetics play role in kids’ snacking patterns

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THE types of snacks a child chooses could be linked to genetics, according to new findings from the Guelph Family Health Study at the University of Guelph. The study published in the journal Nutrients investigated whether genetic variants in taste receptors related to sweet, fat and bitter tastes influence the snacks preschoolers choose and found nearly 80 per cent carried at least one of these genotypes that could predispose them to poor snacking habits.
Researcher Elie Chamoun investigated whether genetic variants in taste receptors related to sweet preference, fat taste sensitivity and aversion to bitter green leafy vegetables 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.”
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. The children with the genetic variant related to avoiding bitter vegetables also consumed snacks with high energy density. “They might be replacing those healthy veggies with unhealthy snacks. 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.

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