Sensory Stimuli and Body Weight

It was originally proposed that obese subjects are more susceptible to external stimuli such as sensory stimuli than lean subjects who were more reliant upon internal physiological cues. This predicted that in a Western context the numerous external food stimuli would promote excess EI in susceptible individuals. As can be appreciated from the above, the interplay between 'external' and 'internal' signal is much more complex and interactive than was initially supposed. Nevertheless, given the multiplicity of afferent inputs that can influence feeding it is possible that some subjects have learned to base feeding predominantly on some cues rather than others. However, dividing these cues into simply internal and external sources is perhaps oversimplified. Current questionnaires that attempt to characterize a subject's responsiveness to food do so by dissociating 'externality,' 'restraint' and 'emotionality.'

Systematic differences have been found in sensory preference profiles, but not perceptions of intensity of various tastes between lean and obese subjects. Recent work has suggested that subjects with a history of weight fluctuation have an enhanced sensory preference for high-fat stimuli that are sweet. It has also recently been shown that sensory preference for fats is associated with degree of fatness in adults and children. This may be important. While there is little evidence that sensory stimuli alone promote positive energy balances, there is evidence that people select foods they prefer. Since high-fat foods are usually more energy dense than lower fat foods, preferential selection of these foods can lead to excess EIs without any apparent change in the amount of food eaten. Thus, sensory factors are likely to play a role in the selection of foods that are conducive to weight gain.

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