Children and adolescents are ‘less sensitive’ to sweet taste: study

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Children are less sensitive to sweet taste, study finds / Pic: iStock/karandaev
Children are less sensitive to sweet taste, study finds / Pic: iStock/karandaev

Related tags Sweet taste Children

Children and adolescents are less sensitive to sweet taste than adults, new research finds.

Children and teenagers require 40% more sucrose in a in a solution for them to detect the taste of sugar, a study published in journal Nutrients​ revealed.

Along with higher taste-detection thresholds, both children and adolescents prefer significantly more concentrated levels of sweetness than adults, the researchers concluded. 

"Both of these dimensions of sweet-taste perception sensitivity and preference undergo distinct developmental trajectories from childhood to adulthood,"​ said M. Yanina Pepino, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who co-wrote the study. "However, they did so independently, and we found no association between the two."

Participants in the research included 108 children, 172 adolescents and 205 adults, who ranged in age from 7-67. 

Sweet taste sensitivity doesn’t predict preference

The researchers gave participants different pairs of sugar-water concentrations to taste and measured both the concentration that participants preferred and the lowest concentration at which they could detect the taste of sugar.

"While children's lower sensitivity required higher sucrose concentrations for them to detect the taste, participants' sweet-taste sensitivity did not predict the level of sweetness they preferred,"​ said co-author Julie Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

"To illustrate these age-related differences in taste sensitivity, we estimated the number of 8-ounce glasses of water in which 4 grams of sucrose - the equivalent of one sugar cube - could be dissolved and participants in each age group could start detecting the sweet taste."

Children and adolescents' lower sensitivity means they would only be able to detect the taste if the sugar cube were dissolved in five glasses of water, for instance. Adults would be able to detect it in a less concentrated solution of seven glasses of water.

Kids have sweeter tooth

Consistent with prior studies, the researchers found that children preferred more intense sweetness than did adults.

Adults favoured levels of sweetness equivalent to a typical cola soft drink, which contains the about eight sugar cubes in an 8-ounce glass of water, Mennella said. On average, children and adolescents preferred a 50% higher sucrose concentration. This is equivalent to about 12 sugar cubes in 8 ounces of water.

The study built upon and combined data from the researchers' previous research, researchers said.

"Using the same sensory evaluation methods we used here to measure sucrose preferences, we found previously that the binding potential of dopamine receptors in the striatum, a brain area that encodes the value of rewards, decreased with age - and predicted, independently of age, the most preferred sucrose concentration in healthy young adults,"​ Pepino explained.

Changes in sucrose taste sensitivity and preferences that occur during adolescence may result from distinct developmental trajectories with different underlying mechanisms, the researchers theorised.

"For example, developmental changes in taste sensitivity may be secondary to changes in the anatomy of the mouth and saliva composition, whereas changes in sweet-taste preferences may be the consequences of changes in the activity and morphology of the brain reward system,"​ Pepino said.

Relationship between Sucrose Taste Detection Thresholds and Preferences in Children, Adolescents, and Adults
Authors: Sara Petty,Clara Salame, Julie A. Mennella, Marta Yanina Pepino

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