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A child's sweet tooth could mean more than just liking sugar

February 12, 2010 |  5:23 pm

Most kids like sweets, but for some children there may be an underlying cause for that affinity.

Kwyr59nc A new study finds there may be a link between sweet preference in children and a family history of alcoholism, plus the child's feelings of depression.

Researchers from Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia studied 300 children ages 5 to 12. They were placed into groups according to a family history of alcoholism (based on a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent who had a diagnosis of alcoholism) and depression symptoms, determined by a series of questions. About half of the children had a family history of alcoholism, and about 25% had symptoms of depression. All of the children were asked to taste five samples of table sugar in water to see which level of sweetness they liked best.

Those who liked the most intense sweetness -- 24% sucrose -- were 37 children who had both a family history of alcoholism and depression symptoms. That concentration of sugar is about the same as 14 teaspoons in an 8-ounce cup of water, far sweeter than the average cola. The other children preferred water with 18% sucrose.

The study shows correlation, not causation, and the researchers also note that this penchant for sweetness doesn't necessarily mean the children who preferred the sweeter taste will eventually become alcoholics. "At this point, we don't know whether this higher 'bliss point' for sweets is a marker for later alcohol use," said Julie Mennella, the study's lead author and developmental psychobiologist at the center, which does interdisciplinary research on taste and smell.

The study appears online in the journal Addiction.

-Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Larry Crowe / Associated Press