Increasing children’s appetite for healthy foods

presentation by Remco Havermans, Maastricht University, at Online Healthy Nutrition Conference (25 November 2020, 14:30 – 18:00 CET). REGISTER HERE to attend

Why do children eat what they eat? Very simply, children choose to eat what they like and refuse foods they do not like. In other words, food liking is one of the most important drivers for children’s food choice and intake. The foods that children like are foods they are familiar with. Foods are accepted when they look, feel, smell, and taste familiar. Increasing the acceptance of certain foods then simply requires repeated exposure to that food. Importantly, this exposure includes tasting.

The efficacy of this exposure can be boosted by adding calories. Indeed, food energy can potently reinforce food preferences which can inform strong cravings for certain high energy dense foods (e.g., chocolate) in the longer run. This also explains why most children eat fewer fruits and vegetables than is typically recommended and underscores the challenge of promoting children’s appetite for healthy foods.

In the current presentation I discuss some findings on the effect of experience on food preferences, speculate on the biological mechanism underlying food preference learning, and outline several research initiatives addressing methods to meet the aforementioned challenge of promoting an appetite for healthy foods in children.

Interview

What drives you?

I am passionate about food and about research. These ‘passions’ motivate me in my daily work, which is studying factors affecting eating behaviour.

Why should the delegate attend your presentation?

In the current presentation I discuss some findings on the effect of experience on food preferences, speculate on the biological mechanism underlying food preference learning, and outline several research initiatives addressing methods to meet the challenge of promoting an appetite for healthy foods in children. The presentation thus provides a nice overview and introduction to the work of the chair group Youth, Food, and Health at Maastricht University Campus Venlo.

What emerging technologies/trends do you see as having the greatest potential in the short and long run?

We are in the midst of a food transition. More sustainable foods need to be developed to maintain food safety and good health. In line with this need, there is a clear trend of introducing palatable, healthy plant-based convenience foods to the market. These stand a better chance for success when introduced to children who are still developing their dietary habits and food preferences.

What kind of impact do you expect them to have?

New sustainable healthy foods that will be introduced into our daily diets can eventually transform the way we eat and foster the promise of promoting overall health and wellbeing.

What are the barriers that might stand in the way?

Individual habits (and preferences), commercial interests, and existing policies are barriers for the food transition.

“Special Quote”

New foods need to be nutritious, sustainable, and tasty. The food transition is bound to fail when led solely by nutritionists. Any intervention aimed at changing eating behaviour requires a gastronomical perspective.

Remco Havermans (1974) studied psychology in Nijmegen and obtained his master’s degree in comparative psychology. He obtained his doctorate degree studying the Pavlovian nature of ‘excessive appetite’, that is, cue-elicited food or drug craving. In 2017, Remco founded the Laboratory of Behavioural Gastronomy at Maastricht University Campus Venlo focusing his research on eating behaviour and flavour perception. As of 2019, Remco is endowed Professor Youth Food and Health, together with Professor Edgar van Mil, also at Maastricht University Campus Venlo. Within this chair group, Remco and Edgar examine if it is possible to increase children’s intake of healthy foods, and if so, in what sense this change in eating behaviour conveys health benefits.

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