Background: Increased preference for fat and sugar may have a role in overweight and obesity development. However, this effect is likely to vary across different food cultures. To date, few studies on this topic have been conducted in children and none have employed an international, multi-centre design.
Objective: To document taste preferences for fat and sweet in children from eight European countries and to investigate their association with weight status and dietary habits.
Design: A total of 1696 children aged 6-9 years from survey centres in Italy, Estonia, Cyprus, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Hungary and Spain tasted and subsequently chose between a high- versus a low-fat cracker and a natural versus a sugar-sweetened apple juice. Children's consumption frequency of fatty and sweet foods and demographic variables were obtained from parental-reported questionnaires. Weight and height of the children were measured.
Results: Fat and sweet taste preferences varied substantially across survey centres. Independent of survey centre, age, sex, parental education and parental BMI, overweight including obesity was positively associated with fat preference and sweet preference. Fat preference associations were stronger in girls. Girls, but not boys, with a combined preference for fat and sweet had an especially high probability of being overweight or obese. Adjusted models with BMI z-score as the dependent variable were consistent with results of the analyses with BMI categories, but with significant results only for fat preference in girls. Frequent consumption of fatty foods was related to fat preference in bivariate analyses; however, adjusting for survey centre attenuated the association. Sweet preference was not related to consumption of sweet foods, either in crude or in adjusted analyses.
Conclusions: Fat and sweet taste preferences are related to weight status in European children across regions with varying food cultures.