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Kids Taste for Fat, Salt and Sugar Formed EarlyKids Taste for Fat, Salt and Sugar Formed Early

January 26, 2011

2 Min Read
Kids Taste for Fat, Salt and Sugar Formed Early

EUGENE, Ore.Preschoolers prefer salt, sugar and fat and equate their taste preferences to brand-name fast-food and soda products, according to a new study published in the journal Appetite. The findings suggest teaching children to make smart food choices at an early age may help curb obesity.

Researchers at the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin-Madison involved developmental psychology and marketing for a two-part study. In the first experiment, 67 children ages 3 through 5 and their mothers were recruited from preschool classes in a large city. The mothers completed a 21-item survey to report on the taste preferences of their children. The children responded to their perceived tastiness of 11 natural and 11 flavor-added foods. Photos of the foods were presented without labeling or packaging. Parents noted the desire for foods high in sugar, fat and salt, while their children showed preference for flavor-added foods that contained these ingredients.

Foods well within the preschoolers' experience were presented in the experiment. Natural foods included apples, bananas, plain milk, fruit salad, water, green beans and tomatoes. Flavor-added foods included cheese puffs, corn chips, watermelon hard candy, jellybeans, banana soft candy, ketchup, colas and chocolate milk.

In the second experiment, researchers explored the association of preschoolers' palate preferences to their emerging awareness of brands of fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. The study included 108 children from five urban preschools. They were shown 36 randomly sorted cards12 related to each of two popular fast-food chains, six to each of the two leading cola companies and six depicting irrelevant products. All children were able to correctly place some of the product cards with the correct companies, indicating their differing levels of brand recognition.

The researchers said the results suggest fast food and soda brand knowledge is linked to the development of a preference for sugar, fat and salt in food. The relationships also appeared to reflect the children's emotional experiences in a way that says the brand-named products deliver their developed taste preferences.

"Our findings present a public policy message," the researchers said. "If we want to pursue intervention, we probably need to start earlier." Parents, she said, need to seriously consider the types of foods they expose their young children to at home and in restaurants. "Repeated exposure builds taste preferences."

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