APA: Otitis Media Is Novel Risk Factor for Obesity

August 14, 2008

A history of ear infections in childhood may damage the sense of taste, which causes changes in the sensory properties of foods, increases liking for energy-dense foods and caloric intake, and ultimately produces weight gain, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association annual convention held Aug. 14 to 17 in Boston.

THURSDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- A history of ear infections in childhood may damage the sense of taste, which causes changes in the sensory properties of foods, increases liking for energy-dense foods and caloric intake, and ultimately produces weight gain, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association annual convention held Aug. 14 to 17 in Boston. Related studies focused on the link between ear infections treated with tubes and damage to nerves involved in taste as well as the relationship between taste, diet and adiposity.

During a symposium entitled "Ear Infections, Taste Perception, and Obesity -- Unexpected Connections," chaired by Linda Bartoshuk, Ph.D., of the University of Florida, researchers addressed the following topics: "Ear Infections: A Source of Taste Damage"; "Ear Infections and Obesity in Adults"; "Ear Infections and Obesity in Children"; "Ear Infections, Tonsillectomies, and Obesity: NHES"; and "Adiposity, Taste Phenotype, and Food Liking."

In a study by Kathleen Daly, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, and colleagues, the researchers used well-child data at age 2 to calculate body mass index-for-age. After controlling for birth weight, maternal smoking, education and income, the investigators found that tubes were significantly related to overweight (odds ratio 2.42) and concluded that chronic ear infections treated with tubes could damage nerves involved in taste.

In another study, John E. Hayes, Ph.D., of the University of Connecticut, and a colleague tested the relationship between taste, diet and adiposity in 110 women (mean age 45) who were phenotyped for taste genetics (6-n-propythiouracil) and taste pathology (quinine bitterness). They found that women who were less able to taste quinine bitterness on the tip of the tongue, a sign of greater pathology, had a higher liking and intake of fats and sweets. "These data extend recent findings that preference measures connect oral sensation with adiposity, are a proxy for dietary intake, and are a good predictor of central adiposity," the authors conclude.

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