Children May Eat More Vegetables When Introduced Early and Often

Professor Marion M. Hetherington BSc (Hons) DipEd DPhil Institute of Psychological Sciences University of Leeds , Leeds, Interview with:
Professor Marion M. Hetherington BSc (Hons) DipEd DPhil
Institute of Psychological Sciences
University of Leeds , Leeds, England

MedicalResearch: What are the main findings of the study?

Professor Hetherington: This study was part of a much larger, funded project called HabEat (European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under the grant agreement n°245012.

In this study we investigated the effects of offering a new vegetable (artichoke puree) to 332 children in the UK, Denmark and France from weaning age to 38 months. During the experiment each child was given between five and 10 servings of at least 100g of the artichoke puree in one of three versions: basic; sweetened, with added sugar; or added energy, where vegetable oil was mixed into the puree.

There was a strong effect of repeated exposure with no additional, clear benefit of adding sweetness or energy. Thus little difference in how much was eaten between children fed basic puree and those who ate the sweetened puree. This suggests that making vegetables sweeter does not make a significant difference to the amount children eat.

MedicalResearch: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Professor Hetherington: We expected older children to eat more than younger children. But we found the opposite! We think this is because after 24 months children become reluctant to try new things and start to reject foods – even those they previously liked.  This is linked to neophobia, the tendency to avoid new foods.

Also, we were not expecting to see such distinctive patterns of eating among the children, but four distinct groups emerged. Most children (40%) were “learners” who increased intake over time. Of the group, 21% consumed more than 75% of what was offered each time and they were called “plate-clearers”. Those who ate less than 10g even by the fifth helping were classified as “non-eaters”, amounting to 16% of the cohort, and the remainder were classified as “others” (23%) since their pattern of intake varied over time. Non-eaters, who tended to be older pre-school children, were the most fussy, the research found.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Professor Hetherington: Even fussy eaters ate a little more each time, so starting early and often, using repeated exposure even works for those who score high on parental reports of fussy eating.
MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Professor Hetherington: Children often eat too few vegetables and claim not to like them.  Vegetables can taste bitter and children may not accept the texture of some vegetables. However, if parents want to encourage children to eat vegetables, they could offer vegetables at weaning and offer vegetables often. Even for fussy eaters our study shows that 5-10 exposures will do the trick.

Learning to Eat Vegetables in Early Life: The Role of Timing, Age and Individual Eating Traits

Samantha J. Caton, Pam Blundell, Sara M. Ahern, Chandani Nekitsing, Annemarie Olsen, Per Møller, Helene Hausner, Eloïse Remy, Sophie Nicklaus, Claire Chabanet, Sylvie Issanchou, Marion M. Hetherington

Published: May 30, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097609


Last Updated on June 7, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD