Contact: Leslie Stein
Monell Chemical Senses Center
Liking sweets makes sense for kids
Heightened sweet preference linked to physical growth
(March 18, 2009) – As any parent knows, children love sweet-tasting
foods. Now, new research from the University of Washington and the
Monell Center indicates that this heightened liking for sweetness has a
biological basis and is related to children's high growth rate.
relationship between sweet preference and growth makes intuitive sense
because when growth is rapid, caloric demands increase. Children are
programmed to like sweet taste because it fills a biological need by
pushing them towards energy sources," said Monell geneticist Danielle
Reed, PhD, one of the study authors.
Across cultures, children
prefer higher levels of sweetness in their foods as compared to adults,
a pattern that declines during adolescence. To explore the biological
underpinnings of this shift, Reed and University of Washington
researcher Susan Coldwell, PhD, looked at sweet preference and
biological measures of growth and physical maturation in 143 children
between the ages of 11 and 15.
The findings, reported in the journal
Physiology & Behavior,
suggest that children's heightened liking for sweet taste is related to
their high growth rate and that sweet preferences decline as children's
physical growth slows and eventually stops.
Based on the
results of sensory taste tests, children were classified according to
their sweet taste preference into a 'high preference' or 'low
preference' group. Children in the 'low preference' group also had
lower levels of a biomarker (type I collagen cross-linked
N-teleopeptides; NTx) associated with bone growth in children and
"This gives us the first link between sweet
preference and biological need," said Reed. "When markers of bone
growth decline as children age, so does their preference for highly
Other biological factors associated with
adolescence, such as puberty or sex hormone levels, were not associated
with sweet preference.
"We now know that sweet preference is
related to physical growth. The next step is to identify the
growth-related factor that is signaling the brain to influence sweet
preference," said study lead author Coldwell, Washington Dental Service
Endowed Professor and Associate Professor of Dental Public Health
Sciences at the University of Washington School of Dentistry.
research was funded by a grant to the University of Washington from the
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (National
Institutes of Health).
The Monell Chemical Senses Center
is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Monell advances scientific understanding of
the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell to benefit human health
and well-being. Using an interdisciplinary approach, scientists
collaborate in the programmatic areas of sensation and perception;
neuroscience and molecular biology; environmental and occupational
health; nutrition and appetite; health and well-being; development,
aging and regeneration; and chemical ecology and communication. For
more information about Monell, visit www.monell.org.