Most preschool children develop a taste for salt, sugar and fat at home, and quickly learn which types of brand-name fast foods and sodas meet these preferences, U.S. researchers say.
In one experiment, the mothers of 67 children, aged 3 to 5, were asked to list their youngsters' taste preferences and listed foods high in sugar, fat and salt. The researchers tested the children and found that the parents' answers were accurate.
In a second experiment, the researchers looked at the association between the taste preferences of 108 preschool children and their emerging awareness of brands of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The children were shown 36 randomly sorted product cards -- 12 related to each of two popular fast-food chains, six related to each of the two leading cola companies, and six depicting non-related products. All of the children were able to place some of the product cards with the correct companies, which demonstrated that they recognized these brands.
The results "suggest that fast food and soda brand knowledge is linked to the development of a preference for sugar, fat and salt in food," the researchers reported.
Parents need to carefully consider the types of foods they give to young children at home and in restaurants, said study co-author T. Bettina Cornwell, a professor of marketing at the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business.
"Repeated exposure builds taste preferences," she said in a university news release.
The study findings were released online ahead of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Appetite.