Obese kids, teens may have less taste sensitivity

September 26, 2012

A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood shows that obese children may have less sensitive taste buds than normal-weight children.

The researchers administered simple taste tests to 99 obese kids and 94 kids of normal weight. Each of the children, ages 6–18, tasted 20 strips of paper that had been treated with varying concentrations of substances associated with the five known qualities of taste—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. They were then asked to identify which of the five qualities the strip represented. A perfect score of 20 would have meant that the taster correctly identified each of the five qualities at all four levels of intensity.

The researchers found that the obese children had more trouble discerning tastes than the others did. The average score among the obese youngsters was 12.6, compared to 14 among the normal-weight kids. The obese kids had particular trouble identifying salty, umami, and bitter tastes.

That lack of sensitivity could help govern kids’ food choices, perhaps steering them away from more healthful foods that their palates perceive as less satisfying and prompting them to consume greater quantities of certain foods in order to achieve a desired taste sensation, the study suggests.

A second experiment focused just on sweet taste, with participants asked to distinguish varying levels of sweetness presented on test strips. Here, the obese kids tended to rate the levels of sweetness lower than the other kids did.

Also, among kids of normal weight, the older participants were better able to identify tastes than the younger ones. But that was not the case among the obese children. The authors concluded, “A better taste differentiation with increasing age is thought to be the normal development. The absence of an increase of taste sensitivity in obese children and adolescents supports the hypothesis that the taste system is affected in obese subjects.”