Innate and learned preferences for sweet taste during childhood

Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Jul;14(4):379-84. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328346df65.


Purpose of review: In nature, carbohydrates are a source of energy often equated with sweetness, the detection of which is associated with powerful hedonic appeal. Intakes of processed carbohydrates in the form of added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages have risen consistently among all age groups over the last two decades. In this review, we describe the biological underpinnings that drive the consumption of sweet-tasting foods among pediatric populations.

Recent findings: Scientific literature suggests that children's liking for all that is sweet is not solely a product of modern-day technology and advertising but reflects their basic biology. In fact, heightened preference for sweet-tasting foods and beverages during childhood is universal and evident among infants and children around the world. The liking for sweet tastes during development may have ensured the acceptance of sweet-tasting foods, such as mother's milk and fruits. Moreover, recent research suggests that liking for sweets may be further promoted by the pain-reducing properties of sugars.

Summary: An examination of the basic biology of sweet taste during childhood provides insight, as well as new perspectives, for how to modify children's preferences for and intakes of sweet foods to improve their diet quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia
  • Beverages / analysis
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Choice Behavior
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Diet
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Sucrose / administration & dosage
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Instinct
  • Nutritive Value
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Sweetening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Taste
  • United States


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Sucrose
  • Sweetening Agents