Previous research has shown that children and adults experience the taste of sweet differently, and children have a higher preference for sweeter tasting foods and beverages compared to adults. The purposes of this study were to 1) determine whether there were changes in sweetness detection thresholds for sucrose among children, adolescents and adults and, 2) determine if age related thresholds and preferences were correlated with each other from childhood to adulthood.  Secondary data from previously conducted studies using validated techniques for sweetness sensitivity and preference were used and combined. Participants from these studies were grouped into three categories of children (n=108), adolescents (n=172) and adults (n=205) to measure differences in threshold and preference across age groups. Data were analyzed using one-way ANOVA, Fisher’s least significant difference, and Spearman rank order. Results showed that sucrose detection was significantly different across age groups (p<.001). Children showed a lower sensitivity to sucrose compared to adolescents and adults (p<05) meaning children need a 40% higher sucrose concentration to detect sweetness compared to adults. Sucrose preference also significantly differed across age groups with adults preferring lower sucrose concentrations compared to children and adolescents (p<.0001); children’s preferences did not differ from adolescent’s preferences (p=0.67). Finally, there was not a correlation between sucrose threshold and preference among any of the age groups (p>.18).

Study strengths: This study supports previous research that has indicated sweetness preference changes across the lifespan. Establishing that there is no correlation between threshold and preference among age groups is a novel trait of this study.

Study limitations: The cross-sectional design of this study does not allow for conclusions to be drawn on causality. Future research is needed to determine the cause of age-related differences in preferences and thresholds, as well as, the lack of relationship between these two. Additionally, the sample was not representative or generalizable; many of the adult participants were women with overweight or obesity.

What this means for your practice: Children have a heightened preference for sweet taste in both food and beverages, but more research is needed to determine causes of this. Encouraging parents to offer fruit instead of sugary drinks when children want something sweet can help keep them healthy.

Original citation: Petty, S., Salame, C., Mennella, J. A., & Pepino, M. Y. (2020). Relationship between Sucrose Taste Detection Thresholds and Preferences in Children, Adolescents, and Adults. Nutrients, 12(7), 1918.

About the Author:  Chenin Treftz, Ph.D., R.D.N., is a member of the research faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno.  Dr. Treftz has expertise in research, community nutrition, and higher education. Dr. Treftz has been a member of the Rethink Your Drink team since 2012.

The goal of Rethink Your Drink Nevada is to promote healthy beverages and reduce sugary drinks. To support this goal, free educational resources are available to eligible medical and dental care practices in Nevada.  For more information, please visit www.rethinkyourdrinknevada.com/healthpros or e-mail rethinkyourdrinknevada@cabnr.unr.edu.

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