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Predictors and correlates of taste preferences in European children

This is an interesting study which tests preferences for sugar, fat, salt and umami (savoury-ness) among children in a range of European countries. It finds that children’s liking for these tastes varies by country, suggesting that culture has a very strong part to play in influencing food preferences. While hardly a major revelation in itself, what I take from this study is that the very common assumptions we see about the ‘inevitability’ of growth in demand for high fat and high sugar foods, or for meat products, are open to challenge.

If culture as much as innate preferences can change food preferences, then changes in cultural norms may also be able to align diets along more sustainable pathways. If anyone has links to other studies of this kind please do send them through – or better still, please post the links in the sustainable diets forum . (Note you will need to log in to do this – contact us if you can’t remember your log in details).

Lanfer A, Bammann K, Knof K, Buchecker K, Russo P, Veidebaum T, Kourides Y, deHenauw S, Molnar D, Bel-Serrat S, Lissner L, Ahrens W (2013). Predictors and correlates of taste preferences in European children: The IDEFICS study, Food Quality and Preference, 27, 2, 128–136

Abstract

The present study investigated taste preferences in a sample of 1705 children aged 6 to 9 years from survey centres in Italy, Estonia, Cyprus, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, and Spain and aimed to identify factors correlated with taste preference. Children’s preferences for varying levels of sucrose (sweet) in apple juice and fat, sodium chloride (salt) and monosodium glutamate (umami) in crackers were assessed using paired-comparison tests. Socio-demographics (age, sex, parental education), early feeding practises (breastfeeding, introduction of fruits), parenting behaviour (TV viewing, using food as a reward) and taste threshold sensitivity for sucrose (sweet), sodium chloride (salt), caffeine (bitter) and monosodium glutamate (umami) were investigated as possible correlates of taste preferences. Parents reported on socio-demographics, early feeding and parenting behaviour. Taste thresholds were determined via a paired-comparison staircase method. Country of residence was the strongest factor related to preferences for all four tastes. Taste preferences also differed by age. Preference for sugar and salt increased between 6 and 9 years of age while preference for monosodium glutamate decreased. The age differences remained significant even after adjustment for sex, country of residence, parental education and early feeding habits. Sex, parental education, early feeding habits, TV viewing, using food as a reward and taste thresholds were not consistently related to taste preferences among the survey centres. In summary, the results highlight the importance of culture and age in taste preferences in children younger than 10 years of age.

The link to the full paper is here (journal subscription access only).

FoodNavigator covers the paper here.

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Europe

Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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