Expert Commentary

Taste perception and implicit attitude toward sweet related to BMI and soft drinks

Report in the journal Appetite on the results of two studies on people's attitudes toward sweet flavors and the impact of sugary drinks on taste preferences

Between 1966 and 2003, the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and glucose syrup through beverages increased more than 11-fold in the United States. Because soft drinks now account for almost 50% of the added sugars present in U.S. diets, understand the broad range of physiological impacts that these beverages have on their consumers is essential.

A research report in the journal Appetite, “Taste Perception and Implicit Attitude Toward Sweet Related to Body Mass Index and Soft Drink Supplementation,” looked at the results of two studies on the impacts of sugary drink consumption on taste preferences and attitudes. In the first study, 34 adults of with a variety of BMI numbers took a taste test of sugary and sucrose-rich substances. In the second, 32 subjects added the equivalent of two sugary drinks per day to their usual diet over a four-week period to test the effect on taste perceptions and preferences.

The findings include:

  • In the first study, overweight or obese subjects reported that samples were 23% less sweet than normal-weight subjects did. Overall, heavier participants had twice the attraction to sweet substances than their normal-weight counterparts.
  • Over the course of the second study, subjects naturally changed their diets, increasing carbohydrate intake by 12% and decreasing fats by 10% and protein by 2%.
  • Participants in the second study had altered “intensity” and “pleasantness” taste perceptions; by the study’s end, those who do not initially like sweet tastes reported liking them more.
  • Because sugary drinks enhance individuals’ preference for sweets, sugar consumption can lead to a “vicious circle” because taste is a primary determinant in food choice and “its alteration has a direct effect on eating behavior.”

The report’s authors note that the preference of sweets by heavier subjects may originate from genetic and environmental factors, but based on the second study, they theorize that “chronic soft drink consumption changes taste and food preference, therefore it could be one of the environmental factors leading to obesity.”

Tags: obesity, nutrition, consumer affairs