Sweet or salty? Weight gain more likely in sweet-toothed toddlers, study shows

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Children who had a preference for sweet snacks had put on weight by 33 months but those who chose salty snacks did not. (© iStock.com)
Children who had a preference for sweet snacks had put on weight by 33 months but those who chose salty snacks did not. (© iStock.com)

Related tags: Famine, Food, Nutrition

Children who eat sweet foods over salty snacks, despite being full, are more likely to experience weight gain, a study has found.

The occurrence of eating foods past satiety has been linked with greater food responsiveness and enjoyment. This suggests that individuals consciously ignore feelings of satisfaction to continue enjoying the pleasant taste of the food.

However, this action has also contributed to less satiety responsiveness​, as well as greater adiposity​ ​or weight gain.

University of Michigan researchers reported the results of their study, where they observed 209 low-income mothers ask their child to fast for one hour then consume a large meal.

The children, aged 21-27 months, were then given a selection of sweet chocolate chip cookies and salty snacks like potato chips. They were given permission to eat much as they liked.

Sweet-natured

Data collected at ages 21, 27, and 33 months found that children between one and three years old who ate more sweet foods experienced increases in body fat by 33 months old. Those who picked the salty foods did not.

Studies of food preference post-satiety in low-income children younger than three years, are few and far between.

child junk food marketing advert
Factors related to low-income families such as food insecurity and single mother family structure would predict eating in the absence of hunger. (© iStock.com)

There have been studies​ examining the stability or change in eating in the absence of hunger with age although none have been carried out in children younger than 4 years.

The researchers initially thought that factors related to low-income families such as food insecurity and single mother family structure would predict eating in the absence of hunger.

However, no association was found. While eating in the absence of hunger had previously been shown to be heritable via the fat mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene​, ​researchers thought that this behaviour may be related to other biological factors that had yet to be identified.

Conditioned response?

pregnant nutrition eating for two
The team thought that the conditioned response was not detectable until age 27 months.(© iStock.com)

In attempting to interpret the association between eating in the absence of hunger and future weight, the researchers believed a biological predisposition to increased food cue reactivity was responsible as this phenomenon did not emerge until age 27 months.

“The food cue reactivity is believed to be a type of Pavlovian conditioning​,”​ the researchers thought.  

“As such, it exemplifies a likely gene–environment interaction. For eating in the absence of hunger and its effects on weight status to manifest, a child with a biological predisposition to increased food cue reactivity may need to have had sufficient exposure to food cues to elicit eating in the absence of hunger.”

They believed food cue reactivity was conditioned with repeated exposure to palatable foods before age 2 years, but the conditioned response was not detectable until age 27 months.

Source: Pediatrics

Published online ahead of print, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-2456

“Eating in the Absence of Hunger and Weight Gain in Low-income Toddlers.”

Authors: Katharine Asta, Alison Miller, Lauren Retzloff, Katherine Rosenblum, Niko Kaciroti, Julie Lumeng

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