a1 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Health Behaviour Research Centre, University College London, Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK
Omnivores have the advantage of a variety of food options but face a challenge in identifying foods that are safe to eat. Not surprisingly, therefore, children show a relative aversion to new foods (neophobia) and a relative preference for familiar, bland, sweet foods. While this may in the past have promoted survival, in the modern food environment it could have an adverse effect on dietary quality. This review examines the evidence for genetic and environmental factors underlying individual differences in children's food preferences and neophobia. Twin studies indicate that neophobia is a strongly heritable characteristic, while specific food preferences show some genetic influence and are also influenced by the family environment. The advantage of the malleability of human food preferences is that dislike of a food can be reduced or even reversed by a combination of modelling and taste exposure. The need for effective guidance for parents who may be seeking to improve the range or nutritional value of foods accepted by their children is highlighted.