Researchers found that a child's food preferences are heavily influenced by their genes

By Gillie Houston
Updated May 24, 2017
© David Malosh

If your child is a frustratingly fussy eater, it's probably not your fault—it's your genes. A new study out of University College London has found that a child's food preferences, finicky or not, are heavily influenced by their genetic makeup.

Researchers analyzed the data of 1,921 families with 16-month-old twins and found that while parenting methods could potentially affect a kid's responses to food, the influence of their genetics was more dominant than that of environmental factors. The results of the study, which were published last week in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, established that fussy eating habits share a common genetic etiology with food neophobia, or the intrinsic resistance to trying new foods at an early age.

"Establishing a substantial genetic influence on both of these traits might be quite a relief to parents as they often feel judged or feel guilty for their children's fussy eating," says study co-author Andrea Smith. Smith points out that while fussiness—defined as selective tendencies towards the smell, texture, and taste of various foods—is often blamed on parenting styles, in reality it has more to do with a child's inherent traits.

The good news for parents of picky eaters is that this early selectivity when it comes to food isn't likely to last. "Genes are not our destiny. We know of many traits with a strong genetic basis that can nevertheless be changed, such as weight," says senior lead researcher Dr. Clare Llewellyn.

Despite the fact that genetics outweigh environmental factors when it comes to childhood eating habits, Llewellyn notes, "It would be useful for future research to identify the important environmental shapers of food fussiness and neophobia in young children so that they might be targeted to reduce these behaviors." And until that research is complete, parents everywhere will have to come up with creative ways to hide the broccoli.