Obesity affects taste in children, adolescents

By Sarah Guy, medwireNews Reporter

Study results show that obese children perceive taste differently from their healthy weight peers, being significantly less able to identify the individual tastes of salty, umami (savory), and bitter.

Furthermore, while the researchers found no significant associations between obesity and correct identification of sweet and sour tastes, the obese study participants rated sweet tastes as less sweet than the healthy weight children in a test of sweetness intensity.

"Further studies on taste sensitivity and hormonal status in obese subjects are required," suggest Susanna Wiegand (Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany) and colleagues.

"Eventually, this could help develop further strategies of obesity prevention and therapy in childhood. Nutritional education could already focus on taste preferences," they add, in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

A total of 99 obese children and adolescents (mean body mass index [BMI]=29.9 kg/m2) aged a median 13 years and 94 normal-weight (mean BMI=18.2 kg/m2) children aged a median 12 years underwent gustatory testing.

Participants were asked to identify the five taste qualities impregnated into filter paper in the form of sucrose (sweet), citric acid (sour), sodium chloride (salty), monosodium glutamate (umami), and quinine-hydrochloride (bitter). The total possible score for correct identification was 20, note Wiegand et al.

While total scores ranged between 2 and 19, sweet and salty tastes were the most frequently correctly identified tastes, and salty was most often confounded with sour or umami.

Obese children's overall median total score was 12.6, which was significantly lower than that for healthy weight children, at 14.1, report the researchers, and girls (52% of obese group; 60% of healthy weight group) scored a significant 0.9 points higher than boys.

Mean total scores for salty, umami, and bitter were significantly lower among obese children than healthy weight children, at 2.8 versus 3.2, 1.6 versus 2.3, and 2.6 versus 3.0, respectively.

In a separate test of sweetness intensity, obese participants consistently rated concentrations lower than healthy weight participants, significantly so for grades 1 through 3 on a scale where 1 represents no taste, and 5 represents very strong taste.

"Obese children have been shown to eat significantly more savoury snacks than normal-weight children, supporting the hypothesis that savoury taste sensitivity could be important in children's weight status and eating behaviour," conclude the researchers.

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