Genetic and environmental influences on food preferences in adolescence

Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug;104(2):446-53. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.133983. Epub 2016 Jul 6.


Background: Food preferences vary substantially among adults and children. Twin studies have established that genes and aspects of the shared family environment both play important roles in shaping children's food preferences. The transition from childhood to adulthood is characterized by large gains in independence, but the relative influences of genes and the environment on food preferences in late adolescence are unknown.

Objective: The aim of this study was to quantify the contribution of genetic and environmental influences on food preferences in older adolescents.

Design: Participants were 2865 twins aged 18-19 y from the TEDS (Twins Early Development Study), a large population-based cohort of British twins born during 1994-1996. Food preferences were measured by using a self-report questionnaire of 62 individual foods. Food items were categorized into 6 food groups (fruit, vegetables, meat or fish, dairy, starch foods, and snacks) by using factor analysis. Maximum likelihood structural equation modeling established genetic and environmental contributions to variations in preferences for each food group.

Results: Genetic factors influenced a significant and substantial proportion of the variation in preference scores of all 6 food groups: vegetables (0.54; 95% CI: 0.47, 0.59), fruit (0.49; 95% CI: 0.43, 0.55), starchy foods (0.32; 95% CI: 0.24, 0.39), meat or fish (0.44; 95% CI: 0.38, 0.51), dairy (0.44; 95% CI: 0.37, 0.50), and snacks (0.43; 95% CI: 0.36, 0.49). Aspects of the environment that are not shared by 2 twins in a family explained all of the remaining variance in food preferences.

Conclusions: Food preferences had a moderate genetic basis in late adolescence, in keeping with findings in children. However, by this older age, the influence of the shared family environment had disappeared, and only aspects of the environment unique to each individual twin influenced food preferences. This finding suggests that shared environmental experiences that influence food preferences in childhood may not have effects that persist into adulthood.

Keywords: behavioral genetics; cohort study; food preferences; heritability; twin study.

Publication types

  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diet*
  • Environment*
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics*
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult