Putting the fun into food studies at Scienceworks this school holidays

Victorian kids have the chance to take part in real-life research when they visit Scienceworks this school holidays.

A team from Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) is inviting children aged from 5 to 12 years, together with their parents and guardians, to join a fun experiment looking at children’s eating behaviours.

Six activity stations have been set up for activities such as food sampling, taste testing, virtual reality and choosing breakfast cereals, in particular how packaging influences children’s choices.

The food sampling will test children’s responses to taste and texture, for example eating a chocolate biscuit versus chocolate cake or eating cubed cheese versus grated cheese.

At the same time, parents and caregivers will be asked about their child’s eating behaviours and personality traits.

Lead researcher, IPAN’s Dr Georgie Russell said children’s attitudes to food can have a big impact on what they eat.

“We know that the way children think about eating, whether they are fussy eaters or food lovers, can influence their food choices,” Dr Russell said.

“It can also be a major source of concern or frustration for parents and families, as parents may worry their children are not eating enough fruit and vegetables or don’t have enough variety in their diets generally.”

Now in its third year, the Children’s Eating and Weight Study (CHEWS) is looking at how genetics, personality, marketing and the type of foods served and eaten at home can play a role in children’s eating habits.

In January 2020, a similar experiment led by Dr Russell explored the origins of picky eating, including whether children’s biological characteristics such as temperament and tactile sensitivity may explain picky eating.

A key finding from that study was that picky eating appears to have its origins in the brain, specifically how children approach foods and other situations and whether they can overcome initial aversions to foods.

“Children have different eating personalities or patterns of eating behaviours, and we are trying to understand what these are, and how they develop,” Dr Russell said.

“In partnership with Scienceworks, this project will provide new insights into children’s eating behaviours that will help children and also help their families raise healthy eaters, no matter what their eating personality may be.”

Deakin media release, 28 September 2022