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Fussy-eating toddlers 'not the fault of parents'

Fussy-eating toddlers 'not the fault of parents'

Parents who are driven to distraction by their toddler’s fussy eating habits should take comfort in new research which claims it’s just as likely to be down to nature as well as nurture.

Researchers from University College London have investigated the behaviour of more than 1,900 families with twins aged 16 months.

For the study, parents completed a questionnaire which asked about the eating habits of their toddlers, including whether the children enjoyed eating a variety of foods and whether they refused new foods.

By looking at how similar the results were from identical twins, who share all genes, compared with how similar they were from fraternal twins, who share on average 50 per cent of genes, the researchers were able to analyse the impact of genetic factors on eating behaviours.

Accordingly, they found that fussy eating and a refusal to try new foods are influenced by the child’s genetics, and are not a mere result of upbringing.

“At 16 months we found that overall 46 per cent of the variation in food fussiness was explained by genes, and we found that 58 per cent of food neophobia (rejection of new foods) was explained by genes,” said PhD student and lead author Andrea Smith.

“That these traits were so significantly influenced by genes so early on really indicates how innate the tendency is, and that it is not because of the parents that are kind of moulding (children) into fussy eaters - it is already there when they are 16 months old.”

However, she adds that shared environmental factors such as a home setting cam also play an important role, and parents should be reassured that fussy eating behaviour can be modified.

“We know that genes are not our destiny,” explained Smith. “Parents can positively influence their child’s eating behaviours.”

She asserts that parents shouldn’t force or bribe their child to eat a “problem” food but instead repeatedly offer it to them outside of mealtimes and praise any attempt by the child to touch or smell it.

The research was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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