Obese Adults Enjoy Food More Thanks to “Taste Perception,” New Study Finds

Overweight people who seem to have a hard time sticking to a healthier diet might be naturally inclined for this, according to a new study out of the University of Iowa. 

The study involved a controlled trial of 290 US adults.  Of this cohort, 161 had a normal body mass index (BMI) while 78 were considered overweight; that leaves 51 members of the study population as obese. It might also be important to note that 80 percent were female and the overall age range was between 18 and 75. 

In the study, each person was given one piece of chocolate at a time, in a controlled environment, and they were asked to rate their enjoyment after eating it.  Also, each person was told they could eat as much chocolate as they wanted.  At the conclusion, it was determined that the fewest number of chocolates consumed was two pieces and the greatest number consumed was 51.

Essentially, the study found that as these individuals consume more of a particular food item, they experienced diminishing marginal taste perception for that item. That means their perception of taste declines which leads to higher consumption rate.  Among those who were not obese, this pattern of diminishing returns was far less pronounced.    The conclusion, then, is that obese people appear to have a natural inclination towards taste perception that modifies their behavior.

And yes, this is very similar to the clinical understanding of our medical model for chemical dependency and addiction. 

Lead study author Dr. Linnea A. Polgreen, PhD, laments that obesity is a major public health issue.  Perhaps that might be due to the fact that the causes behind obesity are quite varied. However, she notes, food consumption decisions appear to play quite an important role, especially in “decisions about what foods to eat and how much to consume.”

The University of Iowa professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science goes on to explain that something called “taste perceptions” could simply lead to overeating.  “If people with obesity have different taste perceptions,” she adds, “non-obese people, it could lead to better understanding of obesity and possibly designing new approaches to prevent obesity.”

The results of this study have been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.