Parents play an extremely important role in helping their children develop food preferences, but attempts to encourage young children to eat a more healthy diet may actually be having the opposite effect, according to a review published in the International Journal of Obesity (1).
Many children become fussy eaters around the age of 18-24 months, forming the start of a long term battle with food for many parents. Toddlers who were once happy to eat a wide range of foods, including fruits and vegetables, may start to refuse to eat particular foods. Others who were quite open minded about new tastes and flavours may start to become neophobic (afraid of new foods). Such behaviour can be extremely trying and stressful for parents, leading them to resort to all manner of ways to encourage children to eat a healthy diet. However, such good intentions may not always have the desired approach according to the reviews author, leading psychologist, Professor David Benton of the University of Wales Swansea.
Professor Benton urges parents not to worry about children’s fear of new foods. “It’s a completely normal response” he explains. “It’s a survival mechanism. Once children start walking, neophobioa discourages them from eating foods which may be poisonous. It doesn’t mean that your child is a poor eater. Thankfully it’s something that most children grow out of with time, but it is a big problem for parents trying to get children to try and accept new foods”.
1) Benton D (2004) Role of parents in the determination of the food preferences of children and the development of obesity. International Journal of Obesity. 28. 858-869.
2) We are born with a preference for sweet and salty foods and a disliking for sour or bitter foods as well as a preference for foods high in energy. Facial expressions of newborn babies when exposed to these flavours suggest that this liking is innate.
Hannah Theobald | alfa
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