Eating behaviors and obesity are complex phenotypes influenced by genes and the environment, but few studies have investigated the interaction of these two variables. The purpose of this study was to use a gene-environment interaction model to test for differences in children's food acceptance and body weights.

Design and Methods:

Inherited ability to taste 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) was assessed as a marker of oral taste responsiveness. Food environment was classified as “healthy” or “unhealthy” based on proximity to outlets that sell fruits/vegetables and fast foods using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The cohort consisted of 120 children, ages 4-6 years, recruited from New York City over 2005-2010. Home address and other demographic variables were reported by parents and PROP status, food acceptance, and anthropometrics were assessed in the laboratory. Based on a screening test, children were classified as PROP tasters or non-tasters. Hierarchical linear models analysis of variance was performed to examine differences in food acceptance and body mass index (BMI) z-scores as a function of PROP status, the food environment (“healthy” vs. “unhealthy”), and their interaction.

Results and Conclusion:

Results showed an interaction between taster status and the food environment on BMI z-score and food acceptance. Non-taster children living in healthy food environments had greater acceptance of vegetables than taster children living in healthy food environments (P ≤ 0.005). Moreover, non-tasters from unhealthy food environments had higher BMI z-scores than all other groups (P ≤ 0.005). Incorporating genetic markers of taste into studies that assess the built environment may improve the ability of these measures to predict risk for obesity and eating behaviors. Obesity (2012)