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Genetics, not parenting techniques, may have more to do with what your child eats than you think. 

Elisabeth Sherman
October 09, 2017

Remember when you were a kid and your parents had to beg, bribe, and trick you into eating your vegetables? At the time, you probably just wanted to ice cream, but maybe as you got older, your taste in food never got any less particular. You only eat what you’ve always enjoyed, rarely trying to new dishes, sticking to the classics and the foods you’ve always loved. Some people might comment that you’re a picky eater, but you just know what you like. Now, science might have revealed evidence to back your fastidious eating habits: gene mutations that make some children more sensitive to bitter tastes. 

According to the Daily Mail, researchers have found that children—specifically those from two to four years old—who refuse to eat their greens aren’t just being fussy; they might actually have a gene mutation that causes them to perceive bitter tastes more strongly than other people. Last year, a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, came the similar conclusion that genes influence how much children restrict their diets.

One of the nutritionists who worked on the study and researches obesity prevention at Illinois University, Natasha Cole, termed these children “bitter-sensitive,” and said that while some picky eating is normal in childhood—as many of us well know—the habit can be more serious if the children in question insist on eating the same meal every day.

The research team collected DNA samples, as well the breastfeeding history and picky eating habits, from 153 preschoolers, eventually identifying the gene mutations known as TAS2R38 and CA6, both of which relate to limiting the variety of food children eat during mealtimes. Their study was published in the Journal of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics.

“A child could go from rarely being a picky eater to being a frequent picky eater in less than a year,” Cole told the Daily Mail.

She also specified that previously, parents may have believed their own habits at the dinner table might be to blame for their kids' refusal to eat healthy, when in fact one of these gene mutations may be present that is causing the child—regardless of parenting techniques—to reject their vegetables.

"Natasha is actually taking a deeper look at the child and genetic predisposition…She has been looking at the whole field of picky eating research and classifying it based on 'nature vs. nurture.' Nature is the genetic disposition and nurture is the environment and the caregivers,” food scientist Soo-Yeun Lee, who also works at the Univerity of Illinois, explained to the Daily Mail of Cole’s research.

However, Cole specifies that there’s still a “huge gap in the research when children transition from a milk-based diet to foods that the rest of the family eats,” meaning that parents who think their children are unusually picky eaters probably have a long wait before science can definitively prove these gene mutations are to blame.