The current food environment is replete with salt, and people of all ages are consuming excessive amounts; however, a biologically driven preference for high levels of salt during periods of growth makes childhood a particularly vulnerable time of life. The association between high salt intake and hypertension in adulthood, the significant tracking pattern of blood pressure from childhood into adulthood, and the increased prevalence of high blood pressure among pediatric populations in recent years underline the importance of early intervention to reduce salt preference and intake, and to set the stage for lower salt intake throughout life. Because liking is an extremely important factor in determining food intake among children, a successful strategy must account for taste and preference. Extensive evidence illustrates that children learn how a food should taste in a context-specific manner, developed by building familiarity with flavors. Therefore, the Primary Aim of the proposed research is to conduct a within- and between-subject trial to examine whether 6- to 11-year-old children who are repeatedly exposed to a low-sodium cereal over an 8-week period will learn to prefer that cereal relative to both pre- exposure preferences, and to children who are repeatedly exposed to a higher-sodium cereal over the same period. Cereal is a food regularly consumed by children in the targeted age range and is in the food group (grain products) that is the primary contributor to dietary salt intake of children. The Secondary Aim will be exploratory in nature but will provide controls necessary to interpret results: we will examine (a) whether children who prefer the low-sodium cereal in a post- relative to a pre-study assessment show a reduction in most preferred levels of salt and sucrose in other foods, (b) whether this response is due to increased liking for the taste of the low-sodium cereal or an increase in salty taste sensitivity, and (c) whether individual differences among children (e.g., blood pressure, body size, and dietary salt intake) affect the shift in salt preference. This proposed research will thus examine factors involved in shifting salt preference of children, identify the specificity of this response and explore relationships between individual differences among children and the efficacy of repeated exposure in shifting salt preference. Results will ultimately serve as a foundation for future randomized controlled trials to determine effectiveness of strategies to reduce salt intake among pediatric populations.

Public Health Relevance

Currently, no body of research has focused on whether children's preference for high levels of salt can be reduced. The proposed research will examine whether children's most preferred levels of salt can be shifted downward through repeated exposure to a low-sodium food and whether individual differences such as BMI and blood pressure affect this shift, critical first steps toward developing evidence-based strategies to reduce dietary salt intake among pediatric populations.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZDC1)
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Rivera-Rentas, Alberto L
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Monell Chemical Senses Center
United States
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Bobowski, Nuala; Reed, Danielle R; Mennella, Julie A (2016) Variation in the TAS2R31 bitter taste receptor gene relates to liking for the nonnutritive sweetener Acesulfame-K among children and adults. Sci Rep 6:39135
Mennella, Julie A; Bobowski, Nuala K; Reed, Danielle R (2016) The development of sweet taste: From biology to hedonics. Rev Endocr Metab Disord 17:171-8