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Pediatrics. 2004 Apr;113(4):840-5.

Flavor programming during infancy.

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  • 1Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.



Although individuals differ substantially in their flavor and food preferences, the source of such differences remains a mystery. The present experimental study was motivated by clinical observations that early experience with formulas establishes subsequent preferences.


Infants whose parents had chosen to formula-feed them were randomized into 1 of 4 groups by the second week of life. One group was assigned to be fed a milk-based formula (Enfamil), whereas another was assigned to be fed (Nutramigen), a particularly unpleasant-tasting protein hydrolysate formula. The remaining groups were assigned to be fed Nutramigen for 3 months and Enfamil for 4 months; the timing of exposure differed between the groups. After 7 months of exposure, infants were videotaped on 3 separate days while feeding, in counterbalanced order, Enfamil, Nutramigen, and Alimentum, a novel hydrolysate formula.


For each of the 4 interrelated measures of behavior (intake, duration of formula feeding, facial expressions, and mothers' judgments of infant acceptance), previous exposure to Nutramigen significantly enhanced subsequent acceptance of both Nutramigen and Alimentum. Seven months of exposure led to greater acceptance than did 3 months.


The bases for clinical difficulties in introducing hydrolysate formulas during older infancy are clarified in this study. More broadly, variation in formula flavor provided a useful model for demonstrating experimentally the effects of long-term exposure differences on later acceptance. Such early variation, under more species-typical circumstances (eg, via exposure to different flavors in amniotic fluid and mothers' milk), may underlie individual differences in food acceptability throughout the life span.

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