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Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Nov;98(5):1326-34. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.065250. Epub 2013 Sep 18.

Dietary intake of young twins: nature or nurture?

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  • 1From Diet and Population Health, Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Research, Cambridge, United Kingdom (LP, GLA, and SAJ); Health Behaviour Research Centre, the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, United Kingdom (CHL, CHMvJ, and JW); and the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition, and Health Sciences, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom (LJ).



The early years in life are increasingly recognized as a critical period for the development of diet-related behavioral traits. However, discussions continue on the relative role of genes and the environment in determining dietary intake, particularly in young children for whom detailed dietary information is limited.


This study tested the hypothesis that diet in early childhood is primarily determined by the environment rather than by genes. A secondary aim was to characterize the early childhood diet.


A classic twin design used 3-d dietary data collected at age 21 mo from the Gemini cohort. From the full sample of 2402 families with twins, dietary diaries were available for 1216 twin pairs (384 monozygotic and 832 dizygotic pairs) after exclusions. Intakes of macronutrients, food, and beverages were estimated. Twin analyses quantified the contributions of genetic and environmental factors to population variation in intake.


At age 21 mo, children consumed small portions of a wide range of family foods. The shared environment was the predominant determinant, contributing between 66% (95% CI: 52%, 77%; milk-based desserts) and 97% (95% CI: 95%, 98%; juice) of the variation in intake. Genetic factors were estimated to account for between 4% (95% CI: 0%, 10%; savory snacks) and 18% (95% CI: 14%, 23%; bread) of dietary intake variation.


Shared environmental influences are the predominant drivers of dietary intake in very young children, indicating the importance of factors such as the home food environment and parental behaviors.

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