Personal Variation in Preference for Sweetness: Effects of Age and Obesity

Child Obes. 2017 Oct;13(5):369-376. doi: 10.1089/chi.2017.0023. Epub 2017 May 12.


Background: Use of nonnutritive sweeteners (NNSs), which provide sweet taste with few to no calories, has increased, but data on whether children's hedonic responses to NNSs differ from nutritive sugars or from adults' hedonic responses are limited.

Methods: Most preferred levels of sucrose and the NNS sucralose were determined via a forced-choice tracking procedure in 48 children, 7-14 years (mean = 10 years), and 34 adults. Each participant also rated the liking of these taste stimuli, as well as varying concentrations of aspartame on 3- and 5-point facial hedonic scales. Anthropometric measures were obtained, and motives for palatable food intake were assessed with the Palatable Eating Motives Scale (PEMS, adults) and Kids PEMS.

Results: While use of the 3-point scale showed no age-related differences in liking of sweeteners, the 5-point scale showed that more children than adults liked higher concentrations of sucrose, sucralose, and aspartame, and the tracking procedure showed that children most preferred higher concentrations of sucrose and sucralose than adults. Regardless of age, sweet preference did not differ between obese and nonobese participants and showed no association with motives for eating palatable foods. Children's body mass index z-scores were positively associated with social and conformity motive scores for eating palatable foods.

Conclusion: Research should move beyond measures of variation in sweet taste hedonics to include identifying motives, and the physiological and psychological consequences of eating sweets, to shed light on what children are more vulnerable to develop unfavorable eating habits, increasing risk for obesity, and other diseases.

Keywords: children; nonnutritive sweetener; obesity; preference; sucrose; taste.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors*
  • Aspartame
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Eating / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Food Preferences / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Pediatric Obesity / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sucrose / analogs & derivatives
  • Sweetening Agents*
  • Taste / physiology*


  • Sweetening Agents
  • Sucrose
  • trichlorosucrose
  • Aspartame