Elevated and sustained desire for sweet taste in african-americans: a potential factor in the development of obesity

Nutrition. 2000 Oct;16(10):886-93. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(00)00403-2.


Oral habituation is a relatively long-lasting decrease in oral responsiveness that results from the repeated presentation of a single stimulus. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the degree of habituation to sweet-tasting foods and to determine whether there are differences in the rate of habituation between African Americans and European Americans. These two groups were compared because the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related disorders such as diabetes and hypertension is significantly higher among African Americans than among European Americans. Nine different commercial foods and beverages that differed in sweetness intensity and caloric density served as stimuli. Subjects tasted and rated each food once per minute for a 30-min period on scales related to desire for another taste of the same sample and desire for a different taste. The stimuli and portion size for each of the 30 samples were two candy bars (Ultra Slim-Fast Cocoa Almond Crunch Bar, 1/16 of a bar; Natural Nectar Peanut Butter Granola Bar, 1/16 of a bar), three beverages (Nestea Lemon Flavored Instant Tea with NutraSweet, 5 mL; Welch's Grape Juice, 5 mL; Pink Swimmingo Kool-Aid, 5 mL), two gelatin desserts (Cherry Flavored Jell-O Gelatin, 5 g; Cherry Flavored Jell-O Gelatin with NutraSweet, 5 g), one enteral nutrition drink (Vanilla Ensure Plus, 5 mL), and one pudding (Ultra Slim-Fast Chocolate Pudding, 5 g). Subjects consumed the entire portion of each sample. Habituation occurred for seven of the nine foods as judged by a decrease in the desire for another taste of the same food. The degree of habituation for European Americans and African Americans was similar except for the sweetest food (Cherry Flavored Jell-O Gelatin with NutraSweet), for which African Americans showed no habituation. The degree of habituation in both groups was unrelated to caloric density. Overall, young African Americans had a significantly greater desire for another taste of the same food than did young European Americans for seven of the nine foods, and this desire was strongly correlated with the sweetness intensity for young African Americans but not for young European Americans. Furthermore, young African Americans had a greater desire than young European Americans for a different taste for seven of nine foods. The greater desire for intense sweet tastes may be a factor in the elevated incidence of obesity and diabetes in African Americans. In addition, young African Americans had greater perceived stress in this study than did young European Americans. If African Americans use sweet taste to compensate for feelings of stress, this compensation may also contribute to weight gain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Blacks* / genetics
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Prevalence
  • Satiety Response
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Whites