Taste for Sweetness Predicts Bariatric Surgery Results?

The Candy MerchantCan a taste for sweetness predict how well someone will do after bariatric surgery? A new study in AJCN suggests that this may be so. In fact, this prospective observational study found two predictors of weight loss in a cohort of 96 bariatric surgery patients. One was an intense taste for sweetness. The other was hedonic hunger – the drive to eat for pleasure.

But these two predictors worked in different directions. A more intense taste for sweetness predicted more weight loss after surgery. The opposite was true for hedonic hunger. More hedonic hunger predicted less weight loss.

Longitudinal Design

This observational study enrolled a total of 212 patients seeking bariatric surgery. In the end, Gabriela Ribeiro and colleagues followed 146 of them for 18 months. Of those, 50 were in the control group of waiting list patients who did not receive surgery. Of 96 patients receiving surgery, 36 had gastric sleeve procedures and 60 had gastric bypass.

Surprising Findings

In the patients who lost more weight with bariatric surgery, their perception of sweetness was more intense before surgery. But it also declined more after surgery. Furthermore their acceptance of sweet foods also declined more. Senior author Albino Oliveira-Maia said that they did not expect these findings:

“It was surprising to find that two different measures of food reward – in this case, of hedonic hunger and taste perception of sweetness – would predict bariatric surgery outcomes in opposite ways.”

Consistent with Other Observations

In another cohort of bariatric surgery patients, these researchers found a similar pattern. Both sweetness intensity and hedonic hunger had a significant correlation with weight loss after surgery.

Researchers have known for some time that surgery brings changes in taste perceptions and preferences. For example, Kimberley Steele and colleagues have reported on changes in sweet and salty taste preferences after surgery. But this is the first time that anyone has found that sweetness perception before surgery might predict weight loss after surgery.

Of course, this is observational research. It offers important clues about how to better target different treatments for different patients. But they are only clues. More research will undoubtedly tell us how to use these clues.

Click here for the study, here and here for further perspective. For a systematic review of research on taste changes after bariatric surgery, click here.

The Candy Merchant, painting by Paul Serusier / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


February 13, 2021

One Response to “Taste for Sweetness Predicts Bariatric Surgery Results?”

  1. February 13, 2021 at 10:30 am, Allen Browne said:

    This research also shows the physiological nature of MBS for those for whom it works best. Big questions remains: who, when, what to do after MBS (if needed).


    Happy Valentine’s Day!