Ear Infections May Be Linked To Obesity For Kids

This study assessed the outcome of chronic otitis media, a common ear disease accompanied by fluid discharges, in children. It was seen that children afflicted with this condition were more obese. The weight gain was attributed to alterations in the taste perception of these children. The threshold for taste in the front part of the tongue was higher in children with otitis media. Because of this, their food intake was higher and ultimately led to obesity. Otitis, being a widely prevalent condition in children, could very well be a major cause for pediatric obesity.

Previous research has been done to examine reasons for obesity in children. Otitis media is a common disease of the ear affecting children the world over; and at least 10% of cases show a recurrence. Several causes contribute to otitis, including microbial infections, allergies, internal ear organ dysfunction, genetic predisposal, smoke, lack of hygiene, and disorders like Down syndrome. Childhood obesity has been found to be an important consequence of otitis. Higher body mass and blood cholesterol was recorded in children with prolonged and persistent otitis. This investigation suggests that a dip in taste levels could follow impaired ear nerve function arising from otitis. This, in turn, increases the limit at which taste is sensed, causing changes in food habits and finally resulting in obesity.


  • The study group was comprised of 42 children suffering from chronic otitis media who regularly required clinical procedures to relieve fluid collection in the ears. The control group also consisted of 42 children with no prior instances of ear problems.
  • Children with no improvement after three months underwent surgery.
  • Electrogustometry, an electricity-based assessment of taste threshold and perception, was carried out.  The children were exposed to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes by administering sugar, common salt, citric acid and quinine.



  • The body weight-to-height ratio in normal children was only 17.7 kg/m2 versus 20.6 kg/m2 in children affected with otitis.
  • There was a definite rise in the taste threshold in the front part of the tongue in otitic children, especially for sweet and salty flavors.
  • However, the back part of the tongue did not show any significant variation. Also, the perception of sour and bitter tastes was not different in the two groups of children.

Next steps/shortcomings
A thorough evaluation of all factors leading to obesity in children could not be carried out due to a low number of study subjects. A higher sample is pivotal to relate obesity with chronic otitis media. This research required a long attention span for the taste perception test, but it was found that children were able to focus only for a short time and were tired very quickly.

Childhood obesity could continue into adulthood, posing numerous health hazards, both physically and mentally. Often, difficulty in hearing in otitic children is due to fat deposits in the ear tube, creating an insufficient opening. This could result in accumulation of middle ear fluid. Furthermore, this inflammation could damage the chorda tympani nerve function which controls taste. Constriction of the ear membrane is followed by decreased taste perception. Children with a reduced taste function are unable to perceive sweet and salt at normal concentrations. Subsequently, higher quantities of such foods are consumed till optimum taste is felt. However, the patients are unaware of these changes due to compensation by alternate nerves. Conclusively, changes in taste are an effect of ear dysfunction, ultimately leading to obesity, which could further hamper other body processes.



For More Information:
Changes in Taste Function Related to Obesity and Chronic Otitis Media with Effusion
Archives of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, (Reprinted) March 2011
By Il Ho Shin, MD; Dong Choon Park, MD
From the Kyung Hee University, Seoul, South Korea, and The Catholic University, Suwon, South Korea

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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