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Family environment has little effect on food preferences of young adults

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Posted July 14, 2016

How did you develop your taste for food? Do you think your family had a big impact on your food preferences? A new study from UCL revealed that effects of family upbringing disappear when teenager starts making his own meal choices.

Although most families are trying to promote healthy food choices they cannot do much to develop food preferences of their children for their adult life. Image credit: Alastair M. Robinson via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Although most families are trying to promote healthy food choices they cannot do much to develop food preferences of their children for their adult life. Image credit: Alastair M. Robinson via Wikimedia, Public Domain

It is generally thought that families can really develop one’s diet behaviour. For example, if a child is taught for a long time that certain groups of foods are more beneficial than others and receives a specific diet at home, he should develop respective taste for meals. However, it is not exactly like that as this new study shows. Not only the results of this research, but also methods are very interesting.

This study involved 2,865 twins aged 18-19 years. They had to complete a questionnaire of 62 individual foods which were categorised into six food groups – fruits, vegetables, meat/fish, dairy, starch food and snacks to reveal their food preferences. Family relation here is very important, because scientists wanted to see what role do genes play in determining food preference.

In this regard, scientists demonstrated that genes have only a moderate effect on food preferences in late adolescence. Study also showed that influence of family environment is effectively replaced with other environmental factors by the time a person enters young adulthood. Scientists say that it was actually quite surprising to find that when an individual is 18 years old influences from family environment of early childhood are virtually undetectable. Implications of this study are quite significant.

First of all, politicians stating that families should promote healthy diets on their children should take notice. Although it is quite important, other focus points have to be addressed as well. Andrea Smith, co-lead researcher in the study, said: “Policies that make ‘the healthier food choice, the easier choice’ for everyone, have great potential to achieve substantial public health improvements. In particular, the UK sugar-sweetened beverage levy soon to be introduced is one initiative that has the potential to promote a healthy food and drink environment”. Secondly, scientists researching obesity should also remember to pay more attention to the environment rather than genes and family environment.

Young adults face many important decisions that have implications on their entire life. It is important that they know consequences of selecting a wrong option and that they do not drift away from healthy diets too far.

Source: ucl.ac.uk

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