Moderators of Children's Food Liking and Intake

Open Access
Shehan, Catherine Victoria
Graduate Program:
Food Science
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
November 03, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Kathleen Loralee Keller, Thesis Advisor
  • John E Hayes, Thesis Advisor
  • Joshua D Lambert, Thesis Advisor
  • food science
  • sensory
  • consumer science
  • children
  • ingestive behavior
  • food liking
  • food intake
  • hedonics
  • test meal
  • moderation
Children’s food choices have long been assumed to be almost entirely driven by hedonics. Children are biologically driven to like tastes associated with high-energy foods but dislike bitter tastes often associated with nutrient dense foods. Better understanding of the relationship between food liking and intake and identifying parental influences on food liking and intake may help efforts to improve children’s diet quality. To clarify the relationship between food liking and intake we determined correlations between children’s food liking and intake in a cross-sectional, laboratory-based study of the strength of the relationship between liking and intake. In this study, 58 young children (mean: 5.44 +/- 0.8 years) attended two sessions in which they tasted and rated their liking of 7 foods and 2 beverages before eating self-selected, ad libitum test-meals. We found that the relationship between children’s food liking and intake is more complex than previous work and common assumptions indicate. Liking and intake of some foods were correlated, but overall, children’s liking ratings did not significantly predict test meal intake. Mean liking and mean intake of low energy density foods (grapes, tomatoes, and broccoli) were moderately correlated (rho=0.28 p=0.03), but no significant relationship was found between mean liking and mean intake of high energy density foods (p=0.72). Contrary to our expectations, no relationship was found between combined liking scores for all test meal items and total meal intake (p=0.72). Moderation analysis showed that the relationship between food liking and intake is influenced by sex (p=0.004), parental work status (p=0.041), and child weight status (p=0.007), with significant high energy density food liking/intake relationships among girls (r=0.46, p=0.02) but not boys (p=0.14) as well as among children with stay-at-home parents(r=-0.46, p=0.02) but not children of working parents (p=0.60). Liking predicted low energy density food intake among overweight/obese children (r= 0.76, p= 0.01), but not among lower weight children (p=0.99). These data suggest that food liking may not positively predict intake in all situations, but that in certain situations, food liking is a strong predictor of intake. Results of exploratory analyses indicate that children’s independent food choices might be associated with their parents’ food-related behaviors. Our findings suggest a negative relationship between time spent on food preparation and test meal food energy density using both correlation analysis (r= -0.35, p= 0.01) and group-wise comparison using one-way ANOVA (F (2,55) = 4.557, p = 0.015). Our findings suggest that children’s eating behavior is more complex than previous work and common assumptions indicate, and further research is needed to clarify influences on children’s eating behavior including the relationship between food liking and intake.