Researchers from Kent State University noted that much of the research about food preferences between the genders has been carried out with adults. They wanted to find out whether food preferences differ in children and adolescents with regard to gender, and how tastes changed at different grade levels.
The findings could not only help food service managers develop menus that children are willing to eat, but could also help pinpoint areas on healthy eating where kids need coaching – and inform product development for food manufacturers.
The study was conducted in a school district in rural northeast Ohio, where enrolment in grades 3 through 12 was 1818 in the school year 2005-6. 95.7 percent of the children were white, 2 percent African American, and 1.9 percent other ethnicities. The district reported that 21.2 percent of the student body were economically disadvantaged.
The children were asked for their views in 80 different foods, using a 5-point rating scale with 4 meaning ‘favorite’, 3 ‘like some’, 2 ‘it depends’, 1 ‘dislike a little’ and 0 ‘yuk’.
In all, 1418 children returned completed questionnaires, and the gender balance was equal – 51 per cent boys and 49 per cent girls.
For both genders the favorite foods were ‘fast and familiar’, with boys displaying a slight lead over girls at elementary level. At middle school, however, ‘fast and familiar’ preference dropped significantly – before bouncing up again at high school.
Girls' ‘fast and familiar’ preference declined quite steadily with age.
A similar pattern was also seen for starches and sweets, although girls’ declining preference was much less steep in this case.
Girls showed a quite low but level preference for fish and casserole entrees throughout all stages, whereas boys’ preference increased steeply between middle and high school.
At middle school, too, girls’ preference for fruit was much higher than boys’, but around high school age girls’ interest dropped and boys’ rose.
“The current investigation found that food preferences differed between genders and these differences varied among elementary, middle and high school,” concluded the researchers. “Menu offerings need to reflect the changing preferences of children with respect to age, gender, and dietary recommendations.”
Journal of School Health, November 2009, Vol 79, No 11
“Gender differences in food preferences of school-aged children and adolescents”
Authors: Caine-Bish, N; Scheule, B