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Tall kids prefer sweets, fat kids like it salty, says study

Children who are tall for their age prefer sweets, and children with higher amounts of body fat prefer salty foods, shows research by scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. The research indicated that biology predisposes us to like and consume calorie-rich sweet foods and sodium-rich salty foods, and this is especially true for children.

“Our research shows that the liking of salty and sweet tastes reflects in part the biology of the child,” said Julie Menelaus, a parapsychologist at Monell.

Menelaus and her colleagues tested 108 children between 5 and 10 years old, and their mothers, for salt and sweet taste preferences. The same testing method was used for both children and their mothers, who tasted broth and crackers that varied in salt content, and sugar water and jellies that varied in sugar content.

The method, developed by Menelaus and her colleagues makes the participants compare two different levels of a taste, pick their favourite, and then compare that favourite with another, over and again until the most favourite is identified.

The researchers also had mothers and children list foods and beverages they consumed in the past 24 hours, from which daily sodium, calorie, and added sugar intakes were estimated.

The participants then gave a saliva sample, which was genotypes for a sweet receptor gene, and a urine sample to measure levels of Nix, a marker for bone growth. Weight, height, and per cent body fat were measured for all the participants.

Analyses of the data showed that not only were sweet and salty preferences correlated in children, and higher overall than those in adults, but also children’s taste preferences related to measures of growth and development: children who were tall for their age preferred sweeter solutions, and children with higher amounts of body fat preferred saltier soups.

The study appeared in the journal PLOS ONE .

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