Picky Eaters Can Still Blame Their Genes, New Study

Picky eaters of the world, arise. Let ’em beg, cry, moan, and whimper, but you have new evidence that it’s sooo not your fault that you can’t eat anything except French fries. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a new twin study on Thursday morning which offered fresh support for the theory that some kids are genetically programmed to avoid new foods.

The study, published today in the journal Obesity, was led by UNC’s Myles Faith. It examined 66 pairs of twins between the ages of four and seven. While environmental influences could affect picky eating to some extent, the cold reality is that 72 percent of the so-called food avoidance was caused by genetic variation.

Twin studies are often used to tease out the relationship between genes and environment because identical twins have exactly the same genetic DNA.

If you’re a parent hoping that they’ll just grow out of it, well, I’ve got bad news. The UNC press release noted that earlier studies showed that picky eaters between the age of eight and 11 got 78 percent of their resistance to new foods from their DNA. That makes tweens extraordinarily difficult to convince to try a new food.

Ouch. The problem may seem funny as long as you don’t have to live with or cook for a picky eater. However, shared meals are an important part of how humans bond, and the inability to try new foods can really restrict options for the person who won’t — or can’t — try new foods.

For example, James Johnson reported on a Match.com survey which suggested that 30 percent of meat-eaters won’t date vegetarians. I once had a co-worker who could eat nothing except pizza, French fries, hamburgers, and sometimes a few pieces of steak or fried chicken.

A co-worker from New Orleans, the seafood capital of the world.

Needless to say, he often got left out of those long wine-soaked dinners where you eat good food and talk shop for several hours.

The New York Times actually reported on a child so picky that he once fainted at the smell of orange juice.

So it isn’t particularly good news that a picky eater is genetically programmed to be that way. But, at least if you have the facts about picky eating, you have a better idea of what you’re up against.

[pizza photo courtesy Scott Bauer and the US Department of Agriculture]