The importance of exposure for healthy eating in childhood: a review


Lucy Cooke, CR-UK Health Behaviour Unit, Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.
Tel.: 0207 679 0948
Fax: 0207 813 2848


Children's food preferences are strongly associated with their consumption patterns. Identifying the factors that influence preferences is therefore crucial to the development of effective interventions to improve children's diets. Perhaps the most important determinant of a child's liking for a particular food is the extent to which it is familiar. Put simply, children like what they know and they eat what they like. From the very earliest age, children's experiences with food influence both preferences and intake, and research suggests that the earlier and broader that experience, the healthier the child's diet. Laboratory studies of children's food acceptance have indicated that repeated opportunities to taste unfamiliar foods results in increased liking and consumption. In order to investigate whether these results can be replicated in real-world situations, a series of naturalistic studies testing the efficacy of exposure-based interventions have been carried out. In a school-based study large increases in liking and intake of raw red pepper were seen in 5- to 7-year olds and two further studies, in which mothers used exposure techniques to increase children's acceptance of vegetables, achieved similar results. If future large-scale interventions prove to be successful, training could be offered to health professionals or directly to parents themselves.