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Tuesday 25th October 2016

Ear infections link to obesity

18th August 2008

Children who frequently suffer from ear infections have a higher than normal risk of becoming obese later in life, a new study shows.


Researchers say that frequent ear infections could lead to damage of a nerve involved in sensing taste, which runs through the middle ear.

The ear infections may therefore change the way people perceive taste, leading them to prefer high fat and highly sugary foods.

University of Florida College of Dentistry taste researcher Linda Bartoshuk told the 116th annual convention of the American Psychological Association in Boston that ear infections are relevant to taste because one of the most important taste nerves goes through the middle ear on the way to the brain.

She added that tonsillectomies had also been linked to a higher risk of obesity in later life, possibly because another taste nerve is located in the throat.

Bartoshuk analysed findings from a survey of 6,600 adults in order to explore taste and health.

She found a link between past ear infections and adult body mass index (BMI), an indicator of obesity.

Other researchers have discovered a link between obesity and tonsillectomies in children.

People with a history of frequent ear infections are 62% more likely to be obese than people who do not, according to Bartoshuk's survey data, a link which she said was unexpected.

The link led her to search other research databases for supporting evidence.

In one study, middle-aged women who showed evidence of damage to taste nerves were far more likely to plump for high-fat and highly sweetened foods, and to have larger waists.

A separate study found that preschool children with a history of frequent ear infections ate fewer vegetables and more sweets than children who did not have frequent ear infections. They also tended to be heavier.

Chronic ear infections up to the age of 2 are associated with higher BMIs around the second birthday, according to epidemiologist Kathleen Daly of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Daly called the findings intriguing, but said they were not yet fully understood.

And re-examination of data from a large, national health survey conducted in the 1960s found a 30% increase in obesity risk among children who had tonsillectomies.

But experts from the American Academy of Otolaryngology - head and neck surgery - say the findings still do not constitute a strong link between the two, and that clinicians would have seen so obvious a link in practice, if it existed.


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