Nav: Home

Children's ability to detect sugar varies widely

December 14, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (December 14, 2015) -- Everyone knows that children love sweets, but ever wonder why some kids seem to want more sugary food than others? It could be because they need more sugar to get that same sweet taste. According to new research from the Monell Center, sensitivity to sweet taste varies widely across school-aged children and is in part genetically-determined. The findings may inform efforts to reduce sugar consumption and improve nutritional health of children.

"Some children are twenty times better at detecting sugar than others. As sugar becomes more restricted and even regulated in children's diets, the less sugar-sensitive children may get less of a 'sweet signal' and therefore have a harder time dealing with sugar reduction," said study author Danielle Reed, PhD, a behavioral geneticist at Monell.

In the study, published online ahead of print in the journal Nursing Research, the researchers determined the sweet taste threshold, defined as the lowest detectable level of sucrose, of 216 healthy children between the ages of 7 and 14. Each child was given two cups, one containing distilled water and the other containing a sugar solution and asked to indicate which contained a taste. This procedure was repeated across a wide range of sugar concentrations: the lowest concentration that the child could reliably distinguish from water was designated as that child's sweet detection threshold (a lower taste threshold means the child is more sensitive to that taste).

Detection thresholds varied across a large range. The most sensitive child required the equivalent of only 0.005 teaspoon of sugar dissolved in a cup of water to detect sweetness, whereas the least sensitive needed three teaspoons to get the same sensation.

To explore genetic influences on sweet taste perception, DNA from 168 of the children was analyzed to identify variation in two sweet taste genes known to be related to sweet sensitivity in adults: the TAS1R3 G-coupled protein sweet receptor gene and the GNAT3 sweet receptor signaling gene. An additional analysis identified variation in the TAS2R38 bitter receptor gene, which is known to be related to individual differences in sweet preferences among children. Small changes in each of these genes are associated with differential sensitivity of the respective receptor to its activating taste stimuli.

Genotype analyses revealed that sucrose thresholds and sensitivity were related to variation in the bitter receptor gene, but not in the two sweet receptor genes. Specifically, children whose TAS2R38 receptor gene variants make them more bitter-sensitive were also more sensitive to sucrose.

Dietary records revealed that children having this same bitter-sensitive gene variant consume a higher percentage of their daily calories as added sugar.

"We were surprised to find that sweet taste sensitivity and sugar consumption were related to a bitter receptor gene. This will make us look harder at how we have cubby-holed taste genes into discrete categories and prompt us to explore whether sucrose and other sugars can directly activate bitter receptors," said Reed.

Using bioelectrical impedance to measure body composition, the researchers also asked whether sweet sensitivity might relate to measures of obesity and were surprised to find that increased body fat was associated with greater sensitivity to sweet taste.

"Our assumption was that the more obese children would be insensitive to sugar and therefore would need higher concentrations to get the same pleasing effect as leaner children," said paper lead author Paule Valery Joseph, PhD, who was a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and Visiting Fellow at Monell at the time the paper was written. "This was not the case and to 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."

Moving forward, Joseph, a nurse-scientist who currently is a Clinical & Translational Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institute of Nursing Research, would like to examine additional measures of dietary intake and body composition to achieve a clearer understanding of the potential relationships of taste, obesity and other metabolic conditions. She comments, "Better nutrition therapies are critically needed. Our ultimate goal is to bring the assessment from bench to bedside to create tailored interventions using 'precision nutrition' for both children and adults."
-end-
Also contributing to the research was developmental psychobiologist Julie Mennella, PhD, of Monell. The work was supported by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under grants DC011287 and P30DC011735 to Monell and by grant T32NR007100 from the National Institute of Nursing Research of the NIH to the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIH. Additional support came from the International Society of Nurses in Genetics and from an investigator initiated grant from Ajinomoto Co., Inc. The funding agencies had no role in the design and conduct of the study; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data; or in the preparation or contents of the manuscript.

The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1968, Monell advances scientific understanding of the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell to benefit human health and well-being. Using an interdisciplinary approach, scientists collaborate in program areas of sensation and perception; neuroscience and molecular biology; environmental and occupational health; nutrition and appetite; health and well-being; development, aging and regeneration; and chemical ecology and communication. For more information about Monell, visit http://www.monell.org.

Monell Chemical Senses Center

Related Body Fat Articles:

Saliva can be used to predict excess body fat in teenagers
Brazilian researchers found the level of uric acid in saliva to be a good indicator of body fat percentage in a study designed to identify reliable biomarkers that can be used to develop quick noninvasive tests for early detection of chronic diseases.
Brown and white body fat speak different languages
Most adults have two types of body fat: white and brown.
Shipment tracking for 'fat parcels' in the body
Without fat, nothing works in the body: These substances serve as energy suppliers and important building blocks -- including for the envelopes of living cells.
Lifestyle coaching proves effective in decreasing body fat and waist size
Losing weight during and after menopause is not easy, but it's not impossible, either.
Excess body fat increases the risk of depression
Carrying ten kilograms of excess body fat increases the risk of depression by seventeen per cent.
Research brief: High fat foods can increase CBD absorption into the body
U of M researchers compared CBD absorption in patients on an empty stomach versus a standardized fatty breakfast.
Excess weight and body fat cause cardiovascular disease
In the first Mendelian randomization study to look at this, researchers have found evidence that excess weight and body fat cause a range of heart and blood vessel diseases (rather than just being associated with it).
Body fat distribution linked to higher risk of aggressive prostate cancer
In the first prospective study of directly measured body fat distribution and prostate cancer risk, investigators found that higher levels of abdominal and thigh fat are associated with an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
Researchers discover DNA variants significantly influence body fat distribution
A new breakthrough from the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits consortium, which includes many public health researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, identifies multiple genetic variants associated with how the body regulates and distributes body-fat tissue.
Screening using body mass index alone may miss every second preschooler with excess stomach fat
When assessing whether preschoolers are overweight, health professionals should use other measures such as waist-to-height ratio in addition to the body mass index (BMI).
More Body Fat News and Body Fat Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.