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Nov 9 / Kayla

Childhood Obesity Linked to Taste Bud Sensitivity

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childhood obesity

Are your kids picky eaters? That may not be such a bad thing according to a recent study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. German researchers have found that the sensitivity of taste buds may be related to a child’s weight. According to this research, children who suffer from childhood obesity are less sensitive to taste than those of ideal weight. Children affected by obesity may be eating a larger amount of food in order to achieve the desired sensation of flavor.

The Study

The study involved 193 children, between the ages of 6 to 18, of varying weights. The weights of the children studied were equally distributed as being obese or average. The researchers tested the children’s taste buds for sensitivity by placing 22 taste strips on each one’s tongue. Each of the five categories of taste – sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and umami (savory) – were represented by strips at four different intensities and the remaining two strips were blank. Each participant was asked to identify the taste and the level of intensity.

The participants were scored based on how accurately they identified each strip, with a maximum score of 20 for identifying everything correctly. For children of average weight, the average score was 14 while 12.6 was the average for those in the obese category.

General results found that the older the participant was, the easier time they had distinguishing the taste. However, this was not true for the obese children – they had just as hard a time regardless of age. These children also showed a tendency to rate the strips of higher intensity as a weaker flavor.

What It Means

The study suggests a connection between taste bud sensitivity and weight. However, it is unclear whether obesity causes less sensitive taste buds, or if less sensitive taste buds cause obesity. Genetics and hormones contribute to both obesity and taste bud sensitivity, so while it can likely be concluded that there is a connection between taste and weight, it is uncertain exactly what this connection is.

Similar studies have found that people with more sensitive taste buds eat less, and vice versa. It is speculated that this is because those with sensitive taste buds don’t need much food to get the desired sensation of taste.

Assuming that taste sensitivity and weight are related, the authors of the study believe that this information can be used to help develop new obesity-prevention strategies for children.

In the meantime, try limiting the amount of unhealthy foods your children eat – regardless of whether or not they can taste them. Obesity is a serious issue, and just one of many problems that can be caused by eating too much food. Consumption of too many sweet or sour foods can have detrimental effects on your teeth, as well. Making healthy choices for your family is the best way to avoid problems like obesity.

4 Comments

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  1. Adam Ray / Dec 6 2012

    I also caught this study a couple of weeks ago. It makes sense that kids with less sensitive taste buds would eat more to fulfill their appetites.

    But the study tested taste buds AFTER the children were already classified as obese or typical weight. How do we know that there is not also a correlation between overeating and taste bud insensitivity?

    If the obese children have less active taste buds, we can’t be sure that they became obese because of less active taste buds, or if their taste buds became less sensitive after years of over-eating.

    It’s a chicken-or-egg question :)

    • Libby / Dec 6 2012

      That’s a really interesting twist, Adam! If you find out more, let us know!

  2. Brian Morse / Nov 15 2012

    I found the easiest thing to do is not to have junk food or sweets in the house. That way when the kids want something sweet, the only things to choose from are healthy.

    • Libby / Nov 15 2012

      That’s a great strategy, Brian!

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