Catherine Scott: Is being a fussy eater really in your DNA?

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I have spent the best part of a decade coping with a ‘particular’ eater (she assures me she’s not picky)

So imagine my interest to hear that it isn’t anything I am doing wrong that means she refuses to eat any fruit except apples, it is all in her DNA. According to researchers from the UK and Norway into the behaviour of 16-month old children, fussy eating and a refusal to try new foods are both heavily influenced by the child’s genetic makeup, and are not just a result of upbringing.

More than 1,900 families with twins aged 16 months took part in the study. Parents completed a questionnaire which investigated the eating habits of their toddlers, including whether the children enjoyed eating a variety of foods and whether they refused new foods.

By looking at how similar the results were from identical twins (who share all their genes) compared with how similar they were from fraternal twins (who share on average 50% of the genes that make people different), the researchers were able to tease apart the influence of genetic factors on the eating behaviour of the children.

The findings showed that fussy eaters were also likely to reject unfamiliar foods, with many of the environmental and genetic factors common to both traits. What’s more, the results suggest that genes play a key role in the eating behaviour of the children.

There will be scores of parents for whom every meal time is a battle ground who will stop beating themselves up about the failure of little Jonny or Jemima to eat their broccoli. However I do have a bit of an issue.

My ‘particular’ eater, as we’ll call her, ate everything for the first two years of her life.

It was only when her little sister came along that her diet suddenly truncated to little more than pasta, cheese, ham and peas.

Every meal time became a torment as we coaxed cajoled and eventually shouted our way through it.

In desperation I turned to my health visitor for help. She explained that I was being controlled by my two year old who was desperate for my attention, any attention, following our new arrival.

Even at two she knew that the one thing I wanted more than anything was to eat and so she stopped, guaranteeing my undivided attention.

I was flabbergasted that a two year old could be so manipulative. May be her controlling gene was to do with DNA but not her sudden dislike of the food I put in front of her. The health visitor suggested introducing one new ingredient every mealtime and heap on the praise when she ate even a little. She now is a far better eater, although don’t try to give her mince, may be that is in her DNA.