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Sweet tooth in kids may be linked to depression and alcoholism


Most children are known to have a sweet tooth. But a recent US study has suggested that the sweeter this tooth, the more likely the child is to have close relatives with alcohol problems and to report depressive symptoms themselves.

The research, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and published in the journal ’Addiction’, was led by Julie Mennella, a developmental psychobiologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. She commented:

“We know that sweet taste is rewarding to all kids and makes them feel good. In addition, certain groups of children may be especially attracted to intense sweetness due to their underlying biology.”

The team ran tests on 300 children between the ages of 5 and 12. Around half had an alcohol-dependent relative and 25% reported symptoms suggesting depression. The kids were offered five drinks each containing a different amount of sugar and asked which one they preferred.

According to the findings, the 37 children who had both alcoholism within the family and suspected depression preferred the sweetest drinks. On average, these youngsters chose the cup which contained 14 teaspoons of sugar – more than twice the amount found in a normal soda.

The scientists then tested the kids on whether their preference had an impact on how they experience pain and discomfort. The results revealed that those who did not display depressive symptoms were able to keep their hands in cold water for longer if they had a sugar hit. Whereas, to depressed kids, the sugar made no difference.

Menella commented: “It may be that even higher levels of sweetness are needed to make depressed children feel better.“

The BBC asked Cardiff University’s Professor Tim Jacob, an expert in smell and taste, for his views. Jacob suggested that the results were interesting but largely inconclusive.

He remarked: “While it is true that sweet things activate reward circuits in the brain, the problem is that sweets and sugar are addictive, because the activation of these reward circuits causes opioid release, and with time more is needed to achieve the same effect. But the taste difference may be explained by differences like parental control over sweet consumption.“

Some celebrities who are known to have suffered from depression include actresses Kirsten Dunst and Gwyneth Paltrow and supermodel Naomi Campbell.

Actors Johnny Depp and David Hasselhoff are among those who have battled alcoholism.

Image: Candy_colors Wikimedia

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