Chronic ear infections can be painful for children, but they can also be an indicator for childhood obesity according to four reports recently presented at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in Boston. The studies concluded that the infections altered children’s sense of taste by making fatty and sweet foods more desirable than healthier low-fat foods.

“There was a trend, but not significant, for recurrent ear infection to lead to overweight,” says Kathleen Daly, lead author of the University of Minnesota’s study. “Other studies have reported a similar relationship between ear infections and overweight. We did not find evidence for the reverse hypothesis: larger and heavier children were more prone to ear infections and tubes than smaller and lighter children.”

And while researchers believe that their findings indicate a link between ear infections and obesity in different age groups, they recognize that the entire population is vulnerable to overeating and weight gain in a social environment which supports these disorders.

Other studies found the following:

  • Of 110 middle-aged women with nerve damage, those who preferred sweet and high-fat foods tended to have larger waists.
  • Preschoolers with a history of severe ear infections ate fewer vegetables, more sweets and they tended to be heavier.
  • Removing the tonsils made girls 30 percent more likely to be overweight.