Kids like sweets, and parents everywhere know that the best way to placate the screaming little darlings is to reach for the sugar. New research has show that children’s craving for sweet-tasting foods actually has a biological basis, thanks to their high growth rate.
Scientists at the University of Washington and the Monell Center investigate the preference for sweets of 143 children between the ages of 11 and 15. They also looked at biological measures of growth and physical maturation.
Their findings, reported in the journal Physiology & Behavior, indicate that when children are young and growing they have a heightened sweet tooth, which fades as they age and their growth spurts slow down.
“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.
Using sensory taste tests, the researchers were able to classify children into two groups; those with a high preference for sweet tastes, and those with low preference. The low preference group were also found to have lower levels of type I collagen cross-linked N-teleopeptides, a biomarker associated with bone growth in children and adolescents.
They also confirmed that the onset of puberty and increased sex hormone levels were not associated with sweet preference, indicating a stronger link with physical growth.
“This gives us the first link between sweet preference and biological need,” said Reed. “When markers of bone growth decline as children age, so does their preference for highly sweet solutions.”