Background: Studies in adults show associations between the hypofunctional seven-repeat allele (7R) of the dopamine-4 receptor gene (DRD4), increased eating behaviour and/or obesity, particularly in females. We examined whether 7R is associated with total caloric intake and/or food choices in pre-schoolers.
Methods: 150 four-year-old children taking part in a birth cohort study in Canada were administered a snack test meal in a laboratory setting. Mothers also filled out a food frequency questionnaire to address childrens' habitual food consumption. Total caloric and individual macronutrient intakes during the snack meal and specific types of foods as reported in the food diaries were compared across 7R allele carriers vs. non-carriers, using current BMI as a co-variate.
Results: We found significant sex by genotype interactions for fat and protein intake during the snack test. Post hoc testing revealed that in girls, but not boys, 7R carriers ate more fat and protein than did non-carriers. Based on the food diaries, across both sexes, 7R carriers consumed more portions of ice cream and less vegetables, eggs, nuts and whole bread, suggesting a less healthy pattern of habitual food consumption.
Conclusion: The 7R allele of DRD4 influences macronutrient intakes and specific food choices as early as four years of age. The specific pattern of results further suggests that prior associations between the 7R allele and adult overeating/obesity may originate in food choices observable in the preschool years. Longitudinal follow-up of these children will help establish the relevance of these findings for obesity risk and prevention.
Keywords: Child behavior; DRD4; Dopamine; Feeding behavior; Food intake; Reward.
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