Genetic and environmental influences on food preferences in adolescence

Andrea D. Smith, Alison Fildes, Lucy Cooke, Moritz Herle, Nicholas Graham Shakeshaft, Robert Joseph Plomin, Clare H. Llewellyn

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Food preferences vary substantially among adults and
children. Twin studies have established that genes and aspects of the
shared family environment both play important roles in shaping
children’s food preferences. The transition from childhood to adulthood
is characterized by large gains in independence, but the relative
influences of genes and the environment on food preferences in
late adolescence are unknown.

The aim of this study was to quantify the contribution of
genetic and environmental influences on food preferences in older

Participants were 2865 twins aged 18–19 y from the TEDS
(Twins Early Development Study), a large population-based cohort of
British twins born during 1994–1996. Food preferences were measured
by using a self-report questionnaire of 62 individual foods. Food items
were categorized into 6 food groups (fruit, vegetables, meat or fish, dairy,
starch foods, and snacks) by using factor analysis. Maximum likelihood
structural equation modeling established genetic and environmental
contributions to variations in preferences for each food group.

Genetic factors influenced a significant and substantial proportion
of the variation in preference scores of all 6 food groups: vegetables
(0.54; 95% CI: 0.47, 0.59), fruit (0.49; 95% CI: 0.43, 0.55), starchy foods
(0.32; 95% CI: 0.24, 0.39), meat or fish (0.44; 95% CI: 0.38, 0.51), dairy
(0.44; 95% CI: 0.37, 0.50), and snacks (0.43; 95% CI: 0.36, 0.49).

Aspects of the environment that are not shared by 2 twins in a family
explained all of the remaining variance in food preferences.

Food preferences had a moderate genetic basis in late
adolescence, in keeping with findings in children. However, by this older
age, the influence of the shared family environment had disappeared and
only aspects of the environment unique to each individual twin influenced
food preferences. This finding suggests that shared environmental
experiences that influence food preferences in childhood may not have
effects that persist into adulthood.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe American journal of clinical nutrition
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 31 May 2016


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