Children’s food preferences begin in the womb..!

Clearly we have a bit of a problem with the TYPES of foods we are eating in the UK! Unfortunately that also goes for our young children too!

A quick reminder…

  • 1/3rd of children in year 6 in the UK are overweight or obese
  • 1/3 of all 5 year olds in the UK suffer from tooth decay
  • We also know that children aren’t eating enough fruit and vegetables (only 16% achieved their 5 A Day in 2013)
  • The average child consumes more than three times the maximum amount of sugar recommended.

A preference for sweetness…

It’s clear from research that humans are born with an innate preference for sweet foods. We’re also born with less of a liking for bitter or sour tasting foods. This response, sometimes called the ‘safety taste’ is completely normal and, in fact, sensible. It’s essentially an in-built survival mechanism that helps young baby’s to favour calorie rich, sweet carbohydrates, which are less likely to be poisonous. Being weary of bitter or sour tasting foods is also sensible as these tastes are more likely to be toxic of ‘gone off’.

Importance during weaning…

In part, the point of introducing solid foods at around 6 months, is NOT to simply introduce children to sweet foods that they already like, it’s to gradually introduce children to an array of new flavours – bitter, sour, acidic, umami, that they may otherwise be slightly wary of. It’s with continued introduction and familiarisation that children override their inbuilt ‘neophobia’ (a fear of new foods) and can therefore enjoy a wide variety of tastes and different foods.

When do preferences develop?

However, a wealth of scientific research has now demonstrated (from as early as the 1970s, and possibly even earlier!) that preferences to tastes and flavours are initially developed in the womb during pregnancy.

This means that a mother can influence her baby’s tastes and food preferences during pregnancy, with the foods that she chooses to eat. At just after 8 weeks gestation a baby has the mechanism to start swallowing, and it’s the amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby during pregnancy that offers baby exposure to these different flavours and aromas.

Flavours from a mother’s diet are transferred to the amniotic fluid that the foetus will then swallow, and this has been shown in research to have an impact on children’s enjoyment and acceptance of those foods and flavours later on.

So, what does this mean in practice?

Ultimately this means that during pregnancy is an ideal time to eat the right foods. Not just for the health of mum, but for the future health and food choices of her unborn child.

Children’s food preferences begin in the womb

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