Do Overweight People Smell Food Better?

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The smell of food is central to its taste — and to our desire for it — and new research suggests that our ability to smell what we eat may affect how much we consume.

In a study at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., researchers tested 64 people’s ability to smell non-food and food-based smells both before and after a meal. The findings were counterintuitive: participants had a heightened sensitivity to the non-food smell when they were hungry, and were better able to smell the food scent after a meal. You’d think it would be the opposite, with people more sensitive to food smells on an empty stomach. (More on Time.com: Special Report: Overcoming Obesity)

Also, researchers found, those with high body mass indexes (BMIs) — that is, those who were heavier — were more sensitive to food smells after a meal than participants with lower BMI.

It’s impossible to draw conclusions from such a small study, but researchers say it may be possible that heavy people have trouble putting their forks down when the tantalizing smell of a meal lingers, and that perhaps this leads to overeating and weight gain. (More on Time.com: Fitness Tech: 10 Cool Ways to Get in Shape)

“For those with a higher BMI, greater olfactory sensitivity to the smell of food may actually foster the continuation of eating, as opposed to causing them to stop eating like individuals with a healthy BMI,” Dr. Lisa M. Davis, a weight loss expert told AOL Health. “Obese consumers with a higher BMI have more of a drive to eat high fat, high sugar and highly palatable foods, which is consistent with a heightened taste sensitivity for these foods.”

For more, see AOL Health’s coverage here.

More on Time.com:

5 Ways to Get Oatmeal in Your Diet, Deliciously

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Study: Obese Workers Cost Employers $73 Billion Per Year

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