Have you ever experienced the frustration of trying to get a young child to eat something new? I have a couple of younger brothers at home between the ages of two and three and it can be very frustrating when they adamantly refuse to eat something based solely on its unfamiliar appearance. But this aversion toward new foods isn't something solely experienced by children, many adults also share this fear when presented with some strange and exotic (at least to them) food. But why do children (and adults for that matter) sometimes refuse to eat new foods? Does the reason why have something to do with the environment people are brought up in? Is it just an attitude problem? As I started to look into this topic further I found some interesting information regarding the subject of food neophobia.
Food neophobia is a condition in which a person is actually afraid to eat a new food. This condition is fairly common among young children but can also be found in adults. But how do we acquire food neophobia? The answer to that question may surprise you. According to research led by Dr. Myles Faith of the University of North Carolina, food neophobia is mostly caused by genetics and not by the environment. This study which was composed of 66 pairs of same sex twins between the ages of 4-7 found that 72% of food neophobia was heritable while the remaining 28% was based on environmental factors. I found these results to be very interesting because it means that this heritable trait is something that we as human beings found to be useful at some point in our history even though it is looked down upon in today’s modern society. Upon reflection I can certainly see the usefulness of such a trait for ancient humans. As this trait of food wariness probably kept a lot of early humans from just scarfing down the first new (and potentially poisonous) food source they found.
So do we stand any chance of overcoming this fear of new foods? The answer is yes, because while genetics do play a role in our reluctance to eat and try new foods this doesn’t mean people can’t be coaxed into eating new foods, it just means it might take a little more time depending on the severity of the food neophobia. As Dr. Myles Faith said in a Huffington Post article on the subject, “genetics does not mean destiny”. So next the time your confronted by a child who sternly rejects your new recipe, just remember it’s nothing personal it’s just genetics.
Posted by: David Rains, Group C