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Variations in marginal taste perception by Body Mass Index classification: a randomised controlled trial

18 / 09 / 19


People who are obese reported higher levels of satisfaction than non-obese people after the same amounts of chocolate was ingested, and this may explain why intake is higher in those who are obese.


This study was conducted by a health economist and epidemiologist from the University of Iowa with the aim of testing the economic theory of marginal utility in a food context.  The theory of marginal utility is the amount of utility or satisfaction achieved from each unit of consumption (e.g. the number of TVs in your home, or the number of pieces of pizza you eat). The theory also includes the concept of diminishing marginal utility; that is, with each additional unit consumed satisfaction decreases (consistent with sensory-specific satiety). They tested this theory with food and they used chocolate as their test food. They examined if there were differences by BMI and sex.  They conducted a RCT on 290 adults (161 normal weight, 78 overweight, 51 obese; 80% female) in which they were presented with chocolates, one at a time, until they chose to stop eating. Subjects completed questionnaires assessing their taste, hunger and perception. One group were given nutrition information about the chocolate while the other was not.

Results: Subjects consumed a mean of 12 pieces of chocolate (2-51 pieces) and average taste perception decreased with each piece. No difference in taste perception was found overall between obese and non-obese subjects. However obese subjects had higher initial levels of taste perception than non-obese, and their taste perception declined at a more gradual rate. Subjects hungrier before the study reported greater taste perception. Providing nutrition information did not affect taste perception. Women’s taste perceptions declined faster than men’s. Obese women needed to eat 12.5 pieces of chocolate to reach the same level of taste perception as non-obese women who ate only 10 pieces. The authors suggest portion control might be helpful to override this tendency.

Citation: Miller AC, Polgreen L, Segre EM, Polgreen PM. Variations in marginal taste perception by Body Mass Index Classification: a randomised controlled trial. J Acad Nutr Diet 2019 Jul 25 pii: S2212-2672(18)31527-2 doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2019.05.018.