Children fed unhealthy foods learn to prefer them
Most preschool children develop a taste for salt, sugar and fat at home and quickly learn which types of brand-name fast foods and sodas meet these preferences.
Food marketers are at the epicenter of criticism for the unfolding obesity epidemic as societies consider banning advertising to children and taxing "junk" foods. While marketing's role in obesity is not well understood, there is clear evidence that children are regularly targeted with calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food. Much of the past research seeks to understand how marketing influences brand preference and child requests.
Researchers in the U.S. tested whether a sugar / fat / salt taste is linked to children's knowledge of food brands, experience with products and advertising. In one experiment, the mothers of 67 children, aged 3 to 5 years, were asked to list their youngsters' taste preferences and listed foods high in sugar, fat and salt. The researchers tested the children and found that the parents' answers were accurate.
In a second experiment, the researchers looked at the association between the taste preferences of 108 preschool children and their emerging awareness of brands of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The children were shown 36 randomly sorted product cards - 12 related to each of two popular fast-food chains, six related to each of the two leading cola companies and six depicting non-related products. All of the children were able to place some of the product cards with the correct companies, which demonstrated that they recognised these brands.
The results suggest that fast food and soda brand knowledge is linked to the development of a preference for sugar, fat and salt in food.
Parents need to carefully consider the types of foods they give to young children at home and in restaurants, recommended the researchers as repeated exposure builds taste preferences.
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