Psychobiology of Food Choice and Eating Behaviour - Food choice across the life span

10 important questions on Psychobiology of Food Choice and Eating Behaviour - Food choice across the life span

How is the food choice/preference structured in children?

  • Innate preferences/aversions - sweet/bitter
  • rest is learned:
    • mere exposure
    • flavour nutrient learning
    • flavour flavour learning
    • social modelling - parental style

Childhood: flavour flavour learning

Toddlers increased intake vegetable crisps (5 -> 15 gram) independent of flavour sauce -> mere exposure
- effect stays in time (2 months) intake and liking

How is the food choice structured in adolescents?

  • Rapid physical growth - accelerated rate of increase in height/weight during puberty
  • dramatic hormonal changes
  • major changes in cognitive proceses and related brain function
  • major changes in social roles, relationships and vocational roles

  • preferences/dietary habits -> pretty stable
  • need for increased energy intake
  • determinants of adolescent's food choices:
    • physical -> hormones, growth, brain maturation
    • social -> peer acceptance, autonomy
    • gender differences
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Adolescence: what are the physical determinants of food choice?

Rapid physical growth -> increased energy intake + balanced diet is important
Adolescents have good knowledge about healthy eating practices but do not act on this.

Most important: taste, hunger, price
Less important: health, nutrition, long-term

Adolescents: what are the social determinants of food choice?

Growing independence + autonomy
Social + purchasing power is higher
Need for peer acceptance is higher

What are the determinants of food choice during mid-life?

Processes within family that influence food choices of adult members:
  • family dynamics over time:
    • periods of readjustment of food choice patterns:
      • family formation- initial years of marriage
      • entry of children into the family
      • middle-age- health issues
  • gender + gender roles:
    • women- household food provider
    • social stratification- division of household tasks, in particular food chores
  • power in families + decision making:
    • Interaction between couples on how they divide responsibilities and what is eaten

Food choices later in life:


Later in life: increasing age > impaired sensitivity

  • > 50 studies since 1950: many convincing data
  • thresholds, suprathreshold sensitivity, identification ability
  • decline in smell > decline in taste
  • elderly, a heterogeneous group!

Later in life: increasing age > higher optimal flavour concentrations/changes in preferences

  • About 30 studies
  • several studies confirm this, not all!
  • not unanimous: different for different groups of elderly
  • different for various flavours

  • slightly higher optimal flavour (taste+odor) concentrations in elderly compared to young subjects
    • ----- young
    • - - - - elderly

Later in life: higher tastant/flavour concentrations > higher food intake

  • 10-15 studies
  • evidence becomes weaker
  • various studies confirm higher intake with higher sensory stimulation, but some do not

Ad libitum intake of apple juice with different sugar concentrations in 33 young and 35 elderly subjects

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