Background

Social environmental and genetic factors influence children’s nutritional habits. Parents often have the strongest influence on their children’s nutritional habits through mechanisms such as modeling and reinforcement. The presence of the 7-repeat (7R) allele of the dopamine receptor DRD4 gene has been shown to affect impulsivity and addictive behaviors, and it may affect feelings of pleasure following meal consumption. Few studies have examined if dopamine reception also affects the interaction between parental social environments and diets. This study examined how parental social networks and dopamine reception are associated with children’s dietary habits.

Methods

Data came from the Brain-to-Society Study, a cross-sectional study examining factors contributing to childhood obesity among children ages 6-12 in Montreal. The sample included parent-child dyads (n=144) with data from a household survey, a 24-hour dietary recall, and genetic information from children’s saliva samples. The association between parental social network characteristics and dietary outcomes was analyzed using linear regression, with the presence of the 7R allele included as a potential moderator.

Results

Presence of the 7R allele moderated the association between parental social network composition and children’s dietary habits. Children carrying the 7R allele exhibited healthier dietary habits than non-carriers as the proportion of men within parental social networks increased. The opposite effect was seen with an increased proportion of women in parental social networks.

Conclusions

Findings suggest that children’s 7R status may play a role in how environmental factors, such as the gender composition of parental social networks, influence dietary habits. Future research might examine mechanisms through which this gene-environment interaction affects children’s health and how to utilize these interactions within interventions aiming to improve children’s nutrition.