All of these factors may directly or indirectly influence eating behaviors. If the diets of children and youth are to improve, attention must be given not only to the behavior of individuals but also to the environmental context and conditions in which people live and eat.

Current studies are inadequate to explain with certainty how individual and environmental influences interact to influence dietary behaviors and health outcomes of children and youth. Simultaneous analyses of sociodemographic, psychological, developmental, and environmental factors and their interactions with food choices are rare in the literature. The few cases that do exist are often focused on a specific age group or a single food group, such as fruits and vegetables. The following sections present both empirical evidence and theoretical links to eating behaviors.


Individual influences on children’s eating behaviors include biological and genetic factors, sensory characteristics, psychological and psychosocial factors, developmental stages, consumer socialization, and lifestyle factors.

Biological and Genetic Factors

Biological Factors

Eating is a behavior influenced by physiological factors. It involves many organs and the central nervous system. Hunger, appetite, and satiety are all under neural regulatory control. Physiological factors influence food intake through sensory stimulation (e.g., smell, sight, taste of food), gastrointestinal signals, and circulating factors and chemical signals (e.g., glucose, insulin, peptides). Environmental and cognitive factors can interfere with or override physiological controls of eating and calorie intake. In fact, food intake in humans may depend more on external factors rather than physiological factors (Bell and Rolls, 2001).

Recent advances in the field of behavioral neuroscience have begun to increase the scientific understanding of the neurobiology of eating and food intake, including when and how much food is consumed and when eating is terminated. Gut–brain signals appear to be a critical neural network in the regulation of calorie intake and meal size. The discovery of bioactive food-stimulated gut peptides, adipocyte hormones, and hypothalamic neuropeptides all appear to affect food intake (Schwartz, 2004). It has been suggested that central regulatory mechanisms may contribute to the preference of sugars and fats over other macronutrients and tastes (Drewnowski and Levine, 2003). Much of the neurobiological mechanism research has been done in animal models, or human neuroimaging studies with patterns of

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