Kids love sweet-tasting foods and new research indicates that this heightened liking for sweetness has a biological basis and is related to children's high growth rate.
Liking sweets is a cross-cultural phenomenon for kids, a pattern that declines during adolescence. To explore the biological underpinnings of this shift, Researchers looked at sweet preference and biological measures of growth and physical maturation in 143 children between the ages of 11 and 15.
The findings suggest that children's heightened liking for sweet taste is related to their high growth rate and that sweet preferences decline as children's physical growth slows and eventually stops. Based on the results of sensory taste tests, children were classified according to their sweet taste preference into a 'high preference' or 'low preference' group. Children in the 'low preference' group also had lower levels of a biomarker (type I collagen cross-linked N-teleopeptides; NTx) associated with bone growth in children and adolescents.
"The relationship between sweet preference and growth makes intuitive sense because when growth is rapid, caloric demands increase. Children are programmed to like sweet taste because it fills a biological need by pushing them towards energy sources," said Monell geneticist Danielle Reed, PhD, one of the study authors. "This gives us the first link between sweet preference and biological need. When markers of bone growth decline as children age, so does their preference for highly sweet solutions."
Other biological factors associated with adolescence, such as puberty or sex hormone levels, were not associated with sweet preference.
"We now know that sweet preference is related to physical growth. The next step is to identify the growth-related factor that is signaling the brain to influence sweet preference," said study lead author Coldwell, Washington Dental Service Endowed Professor and Associate Professor of Dental Public Health Sciences at the University of Washington School of Dentistry.
Published in Physiology&Behavior