The study, published in the journal Appetite, reports that reducing the fat contents of foods favoured by children has little effect on their liking of the food or on weight-based food intake, but markedly reduces energy intake and thus “might provide a means of lowering children's energy consumption.”
“Manipulating fat content in familiar foods served at ad libitum meals had little effect on liking and absolute weight-based food intake, but markedly influenced overall energy intake. In the high-fat meal, children consumed almost 60 per cent more calories,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr Kathleen Keller of theColumbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, USA.
“If these findings are replicated and tested over a longer time period, manipulating fat content of well-liked, familiar foods could be a way of reducing young children's energy intake and become part of a strategy for preventing obesity ... Manipulating fat content is easily done for most dishes, and can be done by both parents and the food industry,” they added.
A taste for fat?
As consumer awareness of the links between diet and disease increases, many manufacturers have found themselves under increasing pressure from consumer groups, charities, and other organisations to reformulate foods with lower levels of fats, sugars, and salt.
The authors noted that it has been suggested that lowering energy density could be a strategy for reducing energy intake in the diet.
“Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient, thus one obvious way to reduce energy density is to reduce fat content of foods. However, manipulating nutrient composition and energy density of foods can reduce their palatability and acceptance,” said Keller and her team.
The authors noted that this is influenced by the target food in question, the nutrients that are manipulated, and the extent to which the manipulation varies from the usual version.
However, Keller and her colleagues said that understanding the relationship between taste preferences and levels of fats in foods is important because fat consumption among children is above recommended levels.
“Taste preferences are the most important factors driving food selection and intake in children,” said the authors. However, they noted that very few studies have examined how children's taste preferences for fat relate to fat intake and obesity.
The new study investigated whether reducing fat content of familiar foods would decrease their acceptance and intake in a group of 74 children aged between four and six, using a meal consisting of macaroni and cheese, pudding, chocolate milk and regular milk in high-fat and low-fat versions.
“The objective of the present study was to determine whether children's ad libitum intake and liking of familiar foods differ when the fat content and energy density of these foods is manipulated,” explained Keller and her co-workers.
The researchers found that while liking ratings and consumption by weight did not differ between versions of the meal, total energy intake was 59 per cent lower for the low fat version.
However, they added that “it should be emphasized that the differences in fat content between the high fat and low fat versions were large in this study.”
They said that to increase children's acceptance and the likelihood of fat manipulation programmes succeeding, “it might be preferable to gradually reduce the fat content of a familiar and well-liked food, as opposed to changing recipes dramatically.”
Volume 57, Issue 3, Pages 573-577, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.07.007
“Manipulating fat content of familiar foods at test-meals does not affect intake and liking of these foods among children”
Authors: A. Olsen, C. van Belle, K. Meyermann, K.L. Keller