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J Nutr. 2017 Aug 23. pii: jn255869. doi: 10.3945/jn.117.255869. [Epub ahead of print]

College-Aged Males Experience Attenuated Sweet and Salty Taste with Modest Weight Gain.

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Department of Food Science and.
Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
Department of Food Science and


Background: Human and animal studies report a blunted sense of taste in people who are overweight or obese, with heightened sensitivity also reported after weight loss. However, it is unknown if taste changes concurrently with weight gain.Objective: This study investigated the association of weight gain with changes in suprathreshold taste intensity perception in a free-living population of young adults.Methods: Taste response, anthropometric measures, and diet changes were assessed with a longitudinal study design in first-year college students 3 times throughout the academic year. At baseline, 93 participants (30 males, 63 females) were an average of 18 y old, with a body mass index (in kg/m2) of 21.9. Sweet, umami, salty, sour, and bitter taste intensities were evaluated at 3 concentrations by using the general Labeled Magnitude Scale. Ordinary least-squares regression models assessed the association of weight gain and within-person taste change, adjusting for sex, race, and diet changes.Results: Participants gained an average of 3.9% in weight, ranging from -5.7% to +13.8%. With each 1% increase in body weight, males perceived sweet and salty as less intense, with taste responses decreasing by 11.0% (95% CI: -18.9%, -2.3%; P = 0.015) and 7.5% (95% CI: -13.1%, -1.5%; P = 0.015) from baseline, respectively. Meanwhile, females did not experience this decrement, and even perceived a 6.5% increase (95% CI: 2.6%, 10.5%; P = 0.007) in sour taste with similar amounts of weight gain. Changes in the consumption of meat and other umami-rich foods also negatively correlated with umami taste response (-39.1%; 95% CI: -56.3%, -15.0%; P = 0.004).Conclusions: A modest weight gain is associated with concurrent taste changes in the first year of college, especially in males who experience a decrement in sweet and salty taste. This suggests that young-adult males may be susceptible to taste loss when gaining weight.


diet; obesity; perception; psychophysics; sex differences; taste; weight gain


Conflict of interest statement

Author disclosures: CAN, PAC, and RD, no conflicts of interest.

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