First foods create impression

What flavours children, even adults, enjoy is dictated - at least partly - by what they were fed as young infants, according to Julie Mennella and her colleagues at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a non-profit research institute based in Philadelphia.

In this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics, the Monell researchers outline how babies develop taste preferences and aversions when they are just four months old, depending on what kind of infant formula they were fed.

Before parents chalk up their children's refusal to eat broccoli and liver to simple childhood petulance, they may want to blame the kind of baby formula they used or what Mom ate while breast-feeding. This latest step forward in finding the answer could also have serious health implications.

Obesity levels, particularly among children, are on the rise in Canada, the United States and other countries, as are associated ailments such as diabetes. Discovering ways to influence flavour could encourage babies to grow into children and adults who have a taste for healthy foods, reports

During the research project carried out at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, babies were split into two groups and given two types of infant formula. One was a standard milk-based formula, with a "bland, cereal-like" flavour.

The second was a hydrosylate formula which is treated to make it more digestible for babies. However, the treatment process gives the formula a bitter aftertaste, and parents who try it tend to think their babies will not like it.

In the study, 53 babies were fed one of the two infant formulas for seven months, starting at about two weeks of age. At the end of the experiment, all the infants were given the chance to drink both types of formula.

The seven-month-old babies who had never had the hydrolysate formula strongly rejected it. In contrast, infants accustomed to the hydrolysate formula appeared relaxed and happy while feeding and drank more of it.

Research team leader Julie Mennella said: "It is often difficult for parents to feed these formulas to their babies because they think it tastes bad. "These findings reveal if the baby feeds this formula by three months of age, the baby learns to like its taste.

"Because we know that flavour preferences established early in life track into later childhood, eating habits in the growing child may begin to be established long before the introduction of solid food," according to BBC.

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