Study: Obese Kids Have Less Sensitive Taste Buds

A new report links languid taste buds to excess weight in kids

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Everyone’s taste buds are different. That’s why some people can swallow the spiciest peppers while others have no fondness for sweet desserts (gasp!). Now a recent study suggests that taste-bud sensitivity may have something to do with the risk of obesity in children.

German researchers report that obese kids have less sensitive taste buds than their normal weight peers, and may therefore eat more food to get the same flavor sensation.

The researchers looked at 193 healthy children aged 6 to 18. Roughly half the kids were normal weight and half were obese. For the study, researchers placed 22 taste strips on the children’s tongues, representing each of the five types of taste — sweet, sour, salty, umami (savory) and bitter — at four levels of intensity, as well as two blank strips. The participants were asked to identify each of the tastes, and also rank each taste strip’s level of intensity.

(MORE: BPA Linked with Obesity in Kids and Teens)

Each taste was assigned a score, with the maximum score for identifying all five types of taste at the four different intensity levels added up to 20. Obese kids had a significantly more difficult time distinguishing between tastes, resulting in an average score of 12.6, compared with an average of just over 14 for the normal weight kids.

Overall, kids had the easiest time identifying sweet and salty tastes; they found it harder to distinguish between salty and sour, and salty and umami. In general, girls and older children were the best at correctly identifying the various tastes. As most kids got older, their ability to differentiate between taste sensations improved, but not among obese children. And although all the kids correctly identified the different sweetness intensity levels, obese kids rated most of the higher-intensity taste strips as weaker than did the normal weight kids.

(MORE: Q&A with the White House Chef on Healthy Eating)

While the study suggests an association between taste sensitivity and weight, it doesn’t make clear whether kids who have less sensitive taste buds are more vulnerable to weight gain, or whether obesity somehow reduces taste-bud responsiveness. It could be a bit of both. The authors say we are all born with individual taste preferences that are influenced by genes, age, gender and exposures to a variety of tastes. In addition, hormonal fluctuations may play a role — both in taste sensitivity and obesity — ABC News reports:

For example, the hormone leptin is associated with hunger, fat storage and the ability to taste sweet things. Obese people may be less sensitive to its daily cycles. Also, if the level of insulin circulating in the blood stream remains consistently elevated for long periods of time, as it does in many obese people, it could weaken the cells’ receptors to the hormone, which in turn could mute taste sensitivity.

Previous studies have suggested that people with highly sensitive taste buds tend to eat less, presumably because they don’t need as much food to get the same taste sensations, while overeaters may have less receptive buds. If taste sensitivity really does play a role in childhood obesity, the authors say the findings may hint at obesity-prevention strategies that focus on mindful eating and taste preferences, rather than counting calories.

The study was published online in the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood.

MORE: Can Laws Against Junk Food in Schools Rein In Child Obesity?

9 comments
Jill Louis
Jill Louis

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Knockout Obesity
Knockout Obesity

Regardless of the factors of childhood obesity (there are many), we need to focus on solutions. As a nation, we are recognizing the need for proper exercise and nutrition, but it alone is not enough to offset the growing obesity epidemic. Low-socioeconomic status plays a major role, yet is not well understood. We need to advocate a wider behavioral understanding of obesity among overweight and NORMAL weight citizens. You cannot compare a 9 year old white male raised by well to do parents with a 9 year old second generation Hispanic male living on Medicaid. More emphasis is needed on the inequality in such comparisons. Over decades, this heightens the disdain in one class, while increasing shame in the other. It exacerbates the problem and decreases the desire to seek help when there is fear of rejection. Knockout Obesity is a program here in NYC that unites five New Yorkers in the fight against obesity via boxing, and documents their progress through an online reality series (64,000+ views to date). The youngest participant, Andy Jimenez, suffered from childhood obesity, yet has lost over 40lbs in just two months and learned to make sound eating choices on his own. Learn more about Knockout Obesity and watch the series: http://www.KOobesity.com

Priyanka Gulati
Priyanka Gulati

Severely Obese People Die Up To 10 Sooner Than Normal People, Is Fat amp; Happy A Myth? Join All New Debate – Is The World Getting Super-Sized? Also get 5 Quick Tips To Combating Obesity http://bit.ly/obesity101 

Kimsbenn
Kimsbenn

Desensitized taste buds doesn't have anything to do with the "I'm full so stop eating" sensors of the stomach. It's another way to say people are not responsible for over eating. Own up or shut up! It takes will power, not increased taste levels, to stop eating a delicious food.

davee44
davee44

The food was changed in the USA, UK and Australia 30 years ago when dangerous food chemicals from the USA was allowed into Europe. The food today causes stubborn insulin If you have stubborn insulin you hold fat and have a hard time losing weight. You can eat very little and the weight still does not come off. Stubborn insulin will hold fat and diets won’t work. When researchers used a specialized diabetes diet on overweight people all lost weight even those who did not have diabetes.

just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

Judith M.
Judith M.

These findings are seriously questionable as people who lose some or all of their sense of taste *lose* weight, not gain it.  Anyone who has ever had a cold or sinus infection can attest to the fact that when you can barely taste your food, you lose the desire to eat.  

Talendria
Talendria

You can definitely desensitize your taste buds by eating too much sugar, salt, or spice.

John Forsthoffer
John Forsthoffer

Less sensitivity is the bodies way of telling you to stop eating.