Otitis media influences adult body mass via sex-specific changes in food preference
D.J. Snyder (1)*, V.B. Duffy (2), L.M. Bartoshuk (1)
1Yale University, USA; 2University of Connecticut, USA
Otitis media (OM) is a common childhood illness that may alter oral sensation by damaging the chorda tympani (CT) as it traverses the middle ear. Our clinical and laboratory data suggest that normal CT activity centrally inhibits other oral sensory afferents (i.e., trigeminal, glossopharyngeal), so OM-related CT loss may enhance oral pain and tactile sensations (i.e., capsaicin, fat) via disinhibition. These sensory changes may in turn influence food choice and body mass index (BMI). Supporting this idea, we have shown that severe OM history is associated with elevated high-fat food preferences and BMI in adult men. We have also linked OM-related BMI gain to increased bitter food preferences (reflecting CT damage) and childhood tobacco exposure (which promotes OM). Recent survey data (N=2508) assessing age, sex, OM history, and hedonic ratings for 26 foods/beverages further extend this model to both sexes: Men and women over age 30 with histories of severe childhood OM have significantly higher BMIs than those without. In addition, food preference analyses reveal a sex difference: Men with OM history show increased preference for a statistically-coupled group of high-fat foods, while women with OM history fail to show the age-related reduction in sweet food preference (including sweet-fat foods) observed in healthy female subjects. Overall, childhood OM may convey long-term obesity risk by boosting preferences for high-fat and/or sweet foods over time. We believe that these hedonic changes arise from CT pathology and related oral sensory disinhibition.
(Support: NIDCD, USDA, NSF, Pangborn Sensory Science Fund)
Key words: obesity, taste, trigeminal, hedonics