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Obese children 'have less sensitive taste buds'

A blunted ability to taste food may prompt obese children to carry on eating too much
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
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20th September 2012 - Obese children find it harder to identify different tastes than their slimmer peers, a study has concluded.

Researchers found that obese children had less sensitive taste buds than kids of normal weight, which may prompt them to eat more food in an attempt to achieve a taste 'hit'.

German researchers based their findings on comparing 94 children of normal weight and 99 obese children aged between six and 18.

Scoring the five taste sensations

The children, who were all in good health and not receiving any medication that might affect their sense of taste, were tested using 22 'taste strips' placed on the tongue to see whether they could identify the five tastes of bitter, sweet, salty, sour and umami (savoury).

Participants could score a maximum of 20 points, with results ranging from two to 19.

Writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the authors report that obese children found it tougher to identify the different taste sensations, scoring an average of 12.6; that compared with an average of just over 14 for children of normal weight.

Obese children were significantly less likely to identify the individual taste sensations correctly, particularly salty, umami and bitter. Also, while both obese and normal weight children correctly identified all the differing levels of sweetness, obese kids rated three out of the four intensity levels lower than those of normal weight.

Girls and older children were better at correctly identifying the right tastes.

Further research needed

The authors say they cannot explain why people have different taste perceptions, although they suggest that genes, hormones and exposure to different tastes in early life may play a part. They add that previous research has found that individuals who are particularly sensitive to tastes may moderate their eating as they require less food to register a satisfactory taste sensation.

Further studies are needed to take account of ethnic background, sex and social status before any firm conclusions can be drawn, the researchers say.

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said the study was interesting but left important questions unanswered. He told BootsWebMD: "Was the difference the result of them becoming obese, or were they children who were susceptible to a taste change before they became obese?"

He said further studies should also examine taste in children before they reached the age of six.

Reviewed on September 19, 2012

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