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The Lasting Influences of Early Food-Related Variety Experience: A Longitudinal Study of Vegetable Acceptance from 5 Months to 6 Years in Two Populations

Posted:  Friday, April 15, 2016

Early and repeat exposure are key to getting kids to eat their greens, new study finds

Public Health bodies around the world are encouraging people, especially families, to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Yet children’s vegetable consumption still falls below current recommendations. To overcome this, a clear strategy that can successfully promote better acceptance of vegetables needs to be found.

Recently, experimental studies have reported promising interventions that increase acceptance of vegetables, with two main strategies standing out as their effects have been shown to persist for at least several weeks. 

 The first involves offering infants a high variety of vegetables at weaning. This has the result of increasing acceptance of new foods, including vegetables. The second, has shown that instead of removing a disliked vegetable from the menu, if a child is offered that vegetable at eight subsequent meals, there is a markedly increased acceptance for that vegetable.

In a Nestlé Nutrition funded study, Andrea Maier-Nöth et al further tested these results by following-up data at 15 months, 3 and 6 years obtained through questionnaire (15 months, 3 years) and experimental (6 years) approaches. 

The results of this study showed that at 15 months, participants who had been breast-fed were reported as eating and liking more vegetables than those who had been formula-fed.

At 15 months, the initially disliked vegetable that became accepted after repeated exposure was still liked and eaten by 79% of the children; at 3 years this figure was 73% and at 6 years the initially disliked vegetable was still liked by 57% of children.

At 6 years observations in an experimental setting showed that children who had been breast-fed and children who had experienced high vegetable variety at the start of weaning ate more of new vegetables and liked them more. They were also more willing to taste vegetables than formula-fed children or the no or low variety groups. 

This follow-up study shows the effectiveness of breastfeeding and early experiences with vegetable variety during complementary feeding in promoting acceptance of new vegetables into childhood. In addition, it demonstrates that offering an initially disliked vegetable to infants at eight subsequent meals reliably increases consumption of, and liking for, that same vegetable for up to 6 years.

That these three effects are long-lasting and robust provides the foundation for evidence-based recommendations to help parents increase healthy eating habits in their children.

Read more about the study and it’s findings in the report: The Lasting Influences of Early Food-Related Variety Experience