Skip to main content

Age and gender differences in children's food preferences

  • Lucy J. Cooke (a1) and Jane Wardle (a1)

The present study was conducted to examine the developmental patterning of food preferences in a large sample of British schoolchildren and to investigate possible gender differences. Using a cross-sectional survey design, the study was carried out in three primary and three secondary schools in West London, UK. A total of 1291 children aged from 4 to 16 years completed a 115-item food preference questionnaire in class time, supervised by class teachers and assistants. Children indicated whether they had ever tried each item and, if so, how much they liked it. We observed age-related increases in the number of foods tried (P<0·001), liked (P<0·005) and disliked (P<0·05). Controlling for the number of foods tried rendered the increase in dislikes non-significant and reversed the age effect on the number liked. Girls liked fruit (P<0·05) and vegetables (P<0·001) more than boys did; boys liked fatty and sugary foods (P<0·005), meat (P<0·001), processed meat products (P<0·001) and eggs (P<0·05) more than girls did. Some age differences were apparent in liking for categories of food, although the effects were not linear. Across ages and genders, children rated fatty and sugary foods most highly, although ratings for fruit were also high. Children's food preferences overall are not consistent with a healthy diet. Interventions should focus on increasing the familiarity, availability and accessibility of healthy foods and should be mindful of the need to target messages appropriately for boys who have less healthful food preferences than girls at all ages.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Age and gender differences in children's food preferences
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Age and gender differences in children's food preferences
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Age and gender differences in children's food preferences
      Available formats
Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Lucy Cooke, fax +44 (0) 20 7813 2848, email
Hide All
Baxter, SD & Thompson, WO (2002) Fourth-grade children's consumption of fruit and vegetable items available as part of school lunches is closely related to preferences. J Nutr Educ Behav 34, 166171.
Bellisle, F, Rolland-Cachera, M-F & Kellogg Scientific Advisory Committee ‘Child and Nutrition’ (2000) Three consecutive (1993, 1995, 1997) surveys of food intake, nutritional attitudes and knowledge, and lifestyle in 1000 French children, aged 9–11 years. J Hum Nutr Diet 13, 101111.
Birch, LL (1979a) Dimensions of preschool children's food preferences. J Nutr Educ 11, 7780.
Birch, LL (1979b) Preschool children's food preferences and consumption patterns. J Nutr Educ 11, 189192.
Birch, LL (1999) Development of food preferences. Annu Rev Nutr 19, 4162.
Birch, LL & Marlin, DW (1982) I don't like it; I never tried it: effects of exposure on two-year-old children's food preferences. Appetite 3, 353360.
Cooke, L, Wardle, J, Gibson, EL, Sapochnik, M, Sheiham, A & Lawson, M (2004) Demographic, familial and trait predictors of fruit and vegetable consumption by preschool children. Publ Health Nutr 7, 295302.
Diehl, JM (1999) [Food preferences of 10- to 14-year-old boys and girls]. Schweiz Med Wochenschr 129, 151161.
Drewnowski, A (1997) Taste preferences and food intake. Annu Rev Nutr 17, 237253.
Garrett, BE & Griffiths, RR (1998) Physical dependence increases the relative reinforcing effects of caffeine versus placebo. Psychopharmacology (Berlin) 139, 195202.
Gibson, EL, Wardle, J & Watts, CJ (1998) Fruit and vegetable consumption, nutrition knowledge and beliefs in mothers and children. Appetite 31, 205228.
Koivisto, UK & Sjoden, PO (1996) Food and general neophobia in Swedish families: parent-child comparisons and relationships with serving specific foods. Appetite 26, 107118.
Koivisto, Hursti U-K & Sjoden, PO (1997) Food and general neophobia and their relationship with self-reported food choice: familial resemblance in Swedish families with children of ages 7–17 years. Appetite 29, 89103.
Le Bigot Macaux A (2001) Eat to live or live to eat? Do parents and children agree?. Public Health Nutr 4, 141146.
Lien, N, Lytle, LA & Klepp, KI (2001) Stability in consumption of fruit, vegetables and sugary foods in a cohort from age 14 to age 21. Prevent Med 33, 217226.
Lytle, LA, Seifert, S, Greenstein, J & McGovern, P (2000) How do children's eating patterns and food choices change over time? Results from a cohort study. Am J Health Promot 14, 222228.
Nicklaus, S, Boggio, V, Chabanet, C & Issanchou, S (2004) A prospective study of food preferences in childhood. Food Qual Prefer 15, 805818.
Pelchat, ML & Pliner, P (1995) 'Try it. You'll like it'. Effects of information on willingness to try novel foods. Appetite 24, 153166.
Perez-Rodrigo, C, Ribas, L, Serra-Majem, L & Aranceta, J (2003) Food preferences of Spanish children and young people: the enKid study. Eur J Clin Nutr 57, Suppl. 1, S45S48.
Peryam, DR (1963) The acceptance of novel foods. Food Technol 17, 3339.
Pliner, P (1982) The effects of mere exposure on liking for edible substances. Appetite 3, 283290.
Pliner, P & Pelchat, M (1986) Similarities in food preferences between children and their siblings and parents. Appetite 7, 333342.
Resnicow, K, Davis-Hearn, M, Smith, M, Baranowski, T, Lin, LS, Baranowski, J, Doyle, C & Wang, DT (1997) Social-cognitive predictors of fruit and vegetable intake in children. Health Psychol 16, 272276.
Reynolds, KD, Baranowski, T, Bishop, DB, Farris, RP, Binkley, D, Nicklas, TA & Elmer, PJ (1999) Patterns in child and adolescent consumption of fruit and vegetables: effects of gender and ethnicity across four sites. J Am Coll Nutr 18, 248254.
Robinson, CH & Thomas, SP (2004) The interaction model of client health behavior as a conceptual guide in the explanation of children's health behaviors. Public Health Nurs 21, 7384.
Skinner, JD, Caruth, BR, Wendy, B & Ziegler, PJ (2002) Children's food preferences: a longitudinal analysis. J Am Diet Assoc 102, 16381647.
Sweeting, H, Anderson, A & West, P (1994) Socio-demographic correlates of dietary habits in mid to late adolescence. Eur J Clin Nutr 48, 736748.
Ton Nu, C, MacLeod, P & Barthelemy, J (1996) Effects of age and gender on adolescents' food habits and preferences. Food Qual Prefer 7, 251262.
Wardle, J, Haase, AM, Steptoe, A, Nillapun, M, Jonwutiwes, K & Bellisle, F (2004) Gender differences in food choice: the contribution of health beliefs and dieting. Ann Behav Med 27, 107116.
Wardle, J, Sanderson, S, Gibson, EL & Rapoport, L (2001) Factor-analytic structure of food preferences in four-year-old children in the UK. Appetite 37, 217223.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Nutrition
  • ISSN: 0007-1145
  • EISSN: 1475-2662
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed