Association for Psychological Science 22nd Annual Convention: Boston, MA

Bring the Family Address

The Sweet Taste of Childhood: From Basic Biology to Culture

Saturday May 29, 2010, 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM - Grand Ballroom

Julie Mennella Julie Mennella
Monell Chemical Senses Center

Health organizations worldwide recommend that adults and children eat diets richer in fruits and vegetables (many of which taste bitter), and minimize intakes of salty, sweet, and fatty foods (highly preferred tastes). Despite such recommendations and benefits to health, adults aren’t complying, nor are their children. The primary reason for this difficulty is the remarkably potent rewarding properties of the tastes and flavors of foods high in sweetness, saltiness, and fatness. From an evolutionary perspective, the biological drive to avoid bitter and eat salty and sweet foods whenever they were available may have served children well in a feast-or-famine setting, but with food always available and in large quantities, children’s physiology no longer matches their environment. While we cannot easily change their basic biology of liking sweets, salt and fat and avoiding bitterness, we can modulate children’s flavor preferences by providing early exposure, starting in utero, to a wide variety of healthy flavors available within the culture. These experiences, combined with repeated exposure to nutritious foods and flavor variety, should maximize the chances that children and their families will select and enjoy a healthier diet.

2010 Program Committee
Tyler S. Lorig, Washington and Lee University (Chair); Nalini Ambady, Tufts University; Abigail Baird, Vassar College; Sian Beilock, University of Chicago; Daniel Klein, Stony Brook University, The State University of New York; Richard Lewis, Pomona College; Kris Preacher, University of Kansas; Deidra Schleicher, Purdue University; Timothy Strauman, Duke University; Tracy Zinn, James Madison University