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Kids Who Can Taste Sugar At Lower Concentration Likely To Be Overweight

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You might have to worry if your child is more sensitive to sugar than other kids.

Prevailing beliefs have it that the most obese children would need higher amounts of sugar to achieve the same pleasure as leaner children. But this was not the case in a study conducted by the Monell Center, which found that those who could taste the sweetener at lower concentrations were more likely to be overweight.

In the research published in the Nursing Research journal, the team probed the sweet taste threshold, which varies widely and is partly dictated by genetics, of 216 healthy kids aged 7 to 14. The subjects were given water-and-sucrose solutions and asked about the taste of each.

The unforeseen finding: higher body fat linked to greater sugar sensitivity.

“[T]o our surprise, children having more body fat were more sensitive to sugar and were able to detect a sweet taste at lower concentrations of sucrose,” said the paper's lead author Paule Valery Joseph. Their results shatter the assumption that obese kids would have a lower sugar sensitivity and need to consume it at higher amounts.

The children’s DNA, too, was tested to identify variations in sweet sensitivity genes: the TAS1R3 G-coupled protein sweet receptor gene along with the GNAT3 sweet receptor signaling gene. The TAS2R38 bitter receptor gene, too, was linked to differences in kids’ sweet preferences.

Based on the team’s analysis, sugar sensitivity was associated with a change in the bitter receptor gene and not in the sweet receptor genes. Kids with the same bitter-sensitive gene variant tended to ingest a higher amount of added sugar in their diet.

It is yet to be cleared why the obese kids were more sugar-sensitive, but the researchers speculated that if sugar strongly affects receptors on the tongue, it may also greatly affect other body organs.

Sugar, too, may have a different impact on the metabolism or biology of individuals reacting to it in smaller doses.

Joseph, currently a National Institute of Nursing Research postdoctoral fellow, plans to study other dietary and body fat measures to establish the connection among taste, obesity, and other metabolic conditions.

Photo: Mauren Veras | Flickr

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