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Sweet Preferences Among Children Tied to Family, Biology

Posted: February 19, 2010

Children’s response to intense sweet taste is related to both a family history of alcoholism and the child’s own self-reports of depression, according to scientists at the Monell Center.

The group’s research, published in Addiction, surveyed 300 children ages 5–12. The subjects tasted five levels of sucrose in water to determine their most preferred level of sweetness. In addition, they were surveyed regarding depressive symptoms, while familial alcohol uses was recorded. According to an official announcement:

Findings suggested that nearly half (49%) of the children had a family history of alcoholism, based on having a parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle who had received a diagnosis of alcohol dependence and that approximately one-quarter were classified as exhibiting depressive symptoms. Meanwhile, liking for intense sweetness was greatest in children having both a positive family history of alcoholism and depressive symptoms, with the most liked level of sweetness being 24% sucrose (equivalent to about 14 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of water and more than twice the level of sweetness in a typical cola.) The sweetness level preferred by the other children was 18% sucrose.

Of the research findings study lead author and Monell developmental psychobiologist, Julie Mennella said, “At this point, we don’t know whether this higher ‘bliss point’ for sweets is a marker for later alcohol use.” The results show that lowering refined sugars in children’s diets may require more sophisticated strategies, particularly as previous research has shown a compelling link between sweet taste to pain reduction—but only in children who have not self-reported depression.