Kids with chronic ear infections tend to be heavier and have less sensitive taste buds than their peers, Korean researchers have found.
It's not the first time scientists have described this relationship, yet nobody fully understands it. One intriguing possibility is that ear infections damage the nerves conducting taste signals to the brain, and so make kids eat more.
In principle, this could play a role in the growing rates of obesity, because ear infections are one of the most common childhood conditions sending kids to the doctor.
For the new study, Dr Il Ho Shin of Kyung Hee University in Seoul and colleagues compared the sense of taste in 42 young kids with chronic middle ear infections and 42 kids without the disease. All were between age 3 and 7.
They found those with ear infections were heavier than the others, with a higher body mass index (BMI).
The sense of taste was impaired in kids with ear infections, and they had more trouble tasting sugar and salt than the others.
On the other hand, there was no difference in the thresholds for bitter and sour tastes, according to the new report, published in the Archives of Otolaryngology –Head & Neck Surgery.
The study doesn't prove that ear infections lead to extra weight, but the Koreans say it's possible that the inflammation may disturb the taste signals, which travel through the middle ear.
(Reuters Health, March 2011)