The influence of food sensory properties on eating behaviours in children with Down syndrome

Food Res Int. 2024 Jan:175:113749. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2023.113749. Epub 2023 Nov 25.


Developing new food products for children is challenging, particularly in vulnerable groups including children with Down syndrome (DS). Focusing on children with DS, the aim of this study was to study the influence of parent liking on acceptance of food products by children with DS and demonstrate the influence of food sensory properties on indicators of food acceptance, food rejection, and challenging eating behaviours. Children (ages 1158 months) with DS (n = 111) participated in a home use test evaluating snack products with varying sensory properties as profiled by a trained sensory panel. Parents recorded their children's reactions to each food product; trained coders coded videos for eating behaviours. To understand the influence of each sensory modality on eating behaviour, ordered probit regression models were run. Results found a significant correlation between the parent liking and overall child disposition to the food (p < 0.05). From the regression analysis, the inclusion of all food sensory properties, including texture, flavour, taste, product shape and size, improved the percentage of variance explained in child mealtime behaviours and overall disposition over the base model (containing no sensory modalities), with texture having the largest influence. Overstuffing the mouth, a challenging eating behaviour, was most influenced by product texture (children ≥ 30 months), and product texture and size (children < 30 months). In both age groups, coughing/choking/gagging was most influenced by food texture and was associated with a product that was grainy and angular (sharp corners). In both age groups, product acceptance was associated with a product that was dissolvable, crispy, and savoury while rejection was associated with a dense, gummy and fruity product. These results suggest that a dissolvable, crispy texture, with a cheesy or buttery flavour are the sensory properties important in a desirable flavoured commercial snack product for children with DS; however, overall disposition must be balanced against mouth overstuffing.

Keywords: Children; Down syndrome; Eating behaviours; Food; Properties; Texture; Trisomy 21.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Down Syndrome*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Meals
  • Taste