Obesity and Ear Infections In Kids: More Proof That We Are What We Eat

The goal of every parent is to ensure their kids eat a healthy diet. Unfortunately, it's a goal few moms and dads reach. Too much fast food, junk food, empty calories, sugary cereals and deep-fried pork rinds. (That stuff'll clog an artery faster than you can say, "I'm having a heart attack.")

Both adults and kids are certainly at risk of obesity. Check out the numbers:

  • 33% of U.S. adults are obese. That's one out of three, so if you have two thin friends, maybe its time to get on the scale.
     
  • From 1960 through 2004, obesity increased from 44.8% to 66% of adults.
     
  • 17.5% of kids (age 6-11) are overweight.
     
  • That number drops to 17% in the 12-19 age range, though not significantly.
     
  • Only one in four kids engage in light to moderate physical activity.
     
  • 25% of kids don't exercise at all!
     
  • The bottom line is this: our next generation will be less healthy than the preceding generation for the first time in history, and a big part of that is due to obesity, lack of exercise and diets of doughnuts and Ring Dings.

We all know the common dangers associated with obesity especially childhood obesity. The risks range from everything from diabetes to pre-mature death - all associated with overeating and weight gain.

Earaches and Fatty Foods

Researchers recently presented some surprising findings at the 116th Annual American Psychology Association convention held in Boston this year that may put you or your child at a higher risk for obesity. Scientists from around the country gathered to report findings of a link between ear infections and the consumption of fatty foods (French fries, corn dogs all the good stuff). The more ear infections one has the more likely they may be to becoming obese.

Middle ear infection is a common childhood disease and obesity is a growing problem worldwide, said Dr. Linda Bartoshuk, PhD, at the University of Florida College of Dentistry. Any potential association between these two public health issues is of considerable interest.

Bartoshuk presented some preliminary findings establishing a strong link between localized taste nerve damage from chronic middle ear infections, or otitis media, and an increased preference for high-fat foods. The researchers feel the increased preference for fatty foods may present a higher risk for obesity in children and adults due to unhealthy eating habits..

Dr. Bartoshuks study examined 6,584 people (a large test population) between the ages of 16 and 92 years of age. The results were quite remarkable. Test respondents with long histories of middle ear infections (otitis media) were 62% more likely to be overweight or obese. That's almost two out of three participants a strong correlation worthy of additional study.

Is It a Matter of Taste?

Another researcher, Dr. John Hayes, developed a study in conjunction with the University of Connecticut that strongly suggests that a sweet tooth is often connected to otitis media. In many cases, test subjects had lost some ability to taste foods. To compensate, these individuals turned to foods that were higher in fats and sugars.

Among middle-aged women, those with taste functioning consistent with taste nerve damage preferred sweet and high fat foods more and were more likely to have larger waists. In another study, they found preschoolers with a severe history of ear infections ate fewer vegetables and more sweets, and tended to be heavier. This suggests that taste damage from ear infections may alter food choice and thus obesity risk. said Hayes.

Tonsils and Taste Buds

Another study reported at the annual conference drew a strong parallel finding that teen-aged girls were more apt to be overweight when theyd had their tonsils removed as children. The increase in the number of overweight teens was 30% higher than those teen girls who had NOT had their tonsils removed again, a strong correlation. Is it possible that children lose some of their ability to taste foods and, therefore, gravitate to those foods that are most satisfying?

A Spreading Problem?

Three out of four children have some kind of ear infection during their early years. At a conference held by the American Chemical Society in August, 2008, Dr. Bartoshuk spoke again about the strong connection between ear infections, taste nerve damage and obesity.

In her presentation to the ACS, Bartoshuk told her listeners that frequent ear infections may permanently damage the chorda tympani nerve, which picks up taste sensations from the front of the tongue and then runs through the middle ear the hollow located between the eardrum and the cochlea to the brain.

The Other Side of the Coin

Dr. Bartoshuk readily admits that, in fact, ear infections may actually increase the pleasure derived from food, making it more tempting to eat fatty, sugary foods. However, this sensation may also fool the brain into thinking that it requires more food for energy. The hunger switch doesnt get thrown and, so, children eat more because they derive greater pleasure from the fattening foods they eat and their brains don't tell them to stop eating youve had enough.

Conclusions
Dr. Bartoshuk and her research colleagues have simply opened the door on the relationship between ear infections in children and the potential for childhood obesity even in infants. More study is required, theres no doubt.

However, the statistical data amply support a hypothesis that ear infections damage taste nerves which, subsequently, draw youngsters and adults to foods with higher concentrations of taste in the form of fats and sugars.

If you or someone you know suffers from chronic middle ear infections, encourage healthy eating habits to ensure they do not fall into these studies statistics of becoming obese.

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