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Repas familial.. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe

Dietary practices and their trends

Calories from sweetened beverages: what affect do they have on food preferences and calorie adjustment in children ?

How do sweetened beverages affect the development of preferences for the flavourings used in these drinks, and the calorie adjustments that occur once they are consumed, in children?  A study carried out within the framework of the meta-programme DID’IT shed light on how calories help shape dietary behaviour and food preferences.

Updated on 09/22/2017
Published on 04/14/2015

The global consumption of sweetened beverages is on the rise. How sweetened beverages contribute to total calorie intake and weight gain in children and adults is still the subject of debate. Current theories suggest that the repeated association between a new flavour and calorie intake is likely to help develop an appreciation for the flavour, through a mechanism known as “flavour-nutrient” hedonic learning. When a new flavour is associated with calories, it also provides information on how satiating the food containing that flavour will be. This “flavour-nutrient” satiety learning mechanism can lead to a better adjustment of food consumption that follows the intake of the learned food (a phenomenon known as calorie adjustment).

The development of food preferences is often studied separately from calorie adjustment control. One of the unique features of this study is that it examined the influence of calorific density both on how people develop a liking for sweetened beverages, and on the calorie adjustments they made to meals taken after those beverages were consumed.

In this study, a calorific drink is one that contains sucrose (150kcal) and a non-calorific drink one that contains sucralose (0kcal). The entire study was carried out in a primary school in Dijon, with children between the ages of 8 and 11. The children consumed the drinks in the late morning, and food intake was measured in the cafeteria during lunchtime under normal conditions.

The study showed that after a learning process (2 to 7 exposures to calorific or non-calorific sweetened beverages), calorie intake led to the development of a more stable liking for the flavours in the drinks. The study also showed that before the learning process, the children did not successfully adjust calorie intake during the meal following the consumption of calorific drinks, while after learning they got better at adjusting calorie intake (39% of calories provided by drinks were adjusted), but always imperfectly. The consumption of sweetened beverages before a meal may therefore lead to an increase in calorie intake.

It remains to be seen if the development of preferences and calorie adjustments observed in school children work the same way for young children and infants.

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