The changing role of the senses in food choice and food intake across the lifespan

Sanne Boesveldt, Nuala Bobowski, Keri McCrickerd, Isabelle Maître, Claire Sulmont-Rossé, Ciarán G. Forde*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Sensory perception begins before birth and enables us to interpret the biological relevance of stimuli in our near environment. In early life, the senses play a crucial role in informing acceptance and rejection of foods and beverages. Food preferences develop with experience based on associations formed between a foods flavour and the consequence of its consumption. In adulthood the role of the chemical senses is often simplified into simple ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’, but recent evidence highlights a more functional role in guiding eating behaviours and nutrition. A food's perceptual properties are important for the detection of its nutrient content and through this, guide not only food choice but also habitual energy selection and consumption behaviour. As we age and the prevalence of chronic disease increases, sensory acuity often declines for taste, smell and texture perception, and this can have an impact on food perception, preference and food intake. This creates an opportunity to apply an understanding of sensory influences on choice and intake to stimulate appetite during periods where nutrient intakes may become compromised. This paper summarises current knowledge of the changing role of the senses during infancy and early childhood, through to adulthood, older age and illness. The aim is to highlight opportunities to improve health and wellness through a better understanding of how sensory factors can influence eating behaviours and nutrition at key time points across the lifespan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-89
JournalFood Quality and Preference
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Cancer
  • Children
  • Elderly
  • Food choice
  • Food intake
  • Neurodegenerative disease
  • Obesity
  • Preference
  • Sensory perception


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