Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ear Infections Can Lead to Taste Problems and Obesity

Anyone who has raised a child knows that small children get ear infections quite often. New research shows that that this painful rite of passage may be linked to people’s preference for fatty foods, which increases their risk of being overweight as they age. At the American Psychological Association’s 116th Annual Convention, scientists from around the world discussed these chronic problems in children.

“Middle ear infection is a common childhood disease and obesity is a growing problem worldwide,” said Linda Bartoshuk, PhD, of the University of Florida. “Any potential association between these two public health issues is of considerable interest.” Bartoshuk presented some preliminary findings that a strong link between localized taste damage from chronic middle ear infections (or otitis media) and an increased preference for high-fat foods.

A series of studies address this issue. In one, 6,584 people between 16 and 92 years old responded to a series of health questions that determined their history of middle ear infections, comparing them with their body mass index (BMI). Those with a moderate to severe history of ear infections were 62 percent more likely to be obese.

In another piece of research, Dr. John Hayes of Brown University and his colleagues at the University of Connecticut found associations between otitis media exposure, taste, food choice and obesity. Among middle-aged women, those with taste functioning consistent with taste nerve damage preferred sweet and high fat foods more and were more likely to have larger waists. In another study, they found preschoolers with a severe history of ear infections ate fewer vegetables and more sweets and tended to be heavier. “This suggests that taste damage from ear infections may alter food choice and thus lead to obesity risk.” said Hayes.

A researcher at the University of Minnesota also spoke about recent findings that showed ear infections treated with tubes can also lead to higher body mass in toddlers. Obesity has doubled over the past 20 years among preschool children. Perhaps chronic ear infections are just one reason for this?


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