Higher preference for sweetness not related to obesity according to a new study


  • Obese people have no higher preference for sweet taste than non-obese individuals
  • Children prefer higher concentrations of sweet taste than adults
  • The innate heightened preference for sweetness during childhood has developed through natural evolution to attract children to nutritive foods during periods of maximal growth

New findings of a new study published recently in Childhood Obesity1 journal add to our understanding of age- and weight-related differences in sweet taste preference. Researchers at Monell Centre examined personal variations in liking for varying concentrations of sugar and low calorie sweeteners in a study with 48 children, 7-14 years, and 34 women, and findings support previous research revealing no difference in liking for sweet taste between obese and non-obese individuals, in both children and adults.

Indeed, there were no significant relationships between body mass index (BMI) and most preferred level of sucrose or low calorie sweeteners, regardless of age. Previous research has also shown that liking for sweetness is not related to body weight status in children, nor body adiposity in adults2,3.

It is basic biology that dictates a liking for sweetness

Furthermore, the new study by Bobowski and Mennella adds to the already existing body of evidence that children have a higher preference for sweet taste overall, by showing that, as is true for caloric sugars, children prefer higher concentrations of the sweet taste of low calorie sweeteners than adults. It is well known that sweetness is innate and universal and that humans are born with a natural preference for sweetness, which decreases from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood. This heightened preference during childhood for sweet taste, which signals energy, may have served children well by attracting them to energy-rich foods during periods of maximal growth. Experts believe that the innate acceptance of sweet stimuli and rejection of bitter ones have developed through natural evolution and constitute an adaptive advantage, preparing the young to spontaneously accept sources of energy and to reject potentially toxic bitter substances. Therefore it is suggested that it is basic biology that dictates a liking for sweetness across the lifespan3.

In conclusion, the frequently held assumption that obese people prefer sweets more than non-obese individuals was not supported by the findings of this new study, consistent with prior research, highlighting instead a relationship between motives underlying intake of palatable foods and body weight among children. In other words, differences in intake of sweet-tasting between obese and non-obese individuals are not likely a result of differences in sweet taste preference per se but, rather, may relate to motives for food intake.

  1. Bobowski N. and Mennella JA. Personal variation in preference for sweetness: Effects of age and obesity. Childhood Obesity. 2017 May 12. doi: 10.1089/chi.2017.0023. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Hill C, Wardle J, Cooke L. Adiposity is not associated with children’s reported liking for selected foods. Appetite 2009;52:603-608
  3. Drewnowski A, Mennella JA, Johnson SL et?al. (2012) Sweetness and food preference. The Journal of Nutrition 142: 1142S–1148.