Why children prefer sweets

An incessant desire to eat sweets by children has entrenched biological roots, with new research explaining their preference for sugary foods could be linked to actual physical growth, reports Confectionery News.

In fact, scientists from the University of Washington and Monell Chemical Senses Center found that children who liked the sweetest products were growing the fastest. Monell geneticist Danielle Reed, one of the study authors said the relationship between sweet preference and growth makes "intuitive sense" because when growth is rapid, caloric demands increase. “This gives us the first link between sweet preference and biological need,” she said.

Their findings, published in the March 18 journal Physiology & Behavior, further suggest that when growth rates taper off so does the individual's desire for sweet food and drinks. “When markers of bone growth decline as children age, so does their preference for highly sweet solutions,” said Reed.

Children, spanning all cultures, appear to prefer higher levels of sweetness in their foods compared to adults, a pattern that declines during adolescence. The shift occurs when the desire for sweet drinks and foods starts to tail off, roughly between the ages of 11 and 15.

And while pressure continues on the food industry to help address soaring childhood obesity rates through low-sugar confectionery formulations, this study suggests the biological need is innate. If this is the case, arguably, a responsible food industry must continue to design sweet solutions that meet the desire for sweetness but with a low-sugar profile.

Armed with the findings that sweet preference appears to be related to physical growth, the next step is to identify the "growth-related factor that is signalling the brain to influence sweet preference”, said study lead author Professor Coldwell, at the University of Washington school of dentistry.