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Bariatric Surgery May Alter Taste Buds08:26
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Thousands of doctors, scientists and policymakers are gathered in Boston for Obesity Week 2014. Among the new findings being presented at the conference is that bariatric surgery may alter taste buds and make food taste less appealing. Another big topic of conversation: how addressing our society's "food-rich environment" may be key to combating obesity.

Here & Now's Sacha Pfeiffer talked to Dr. John Morton, the chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine and president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, about some of the newest thinking and approaches — from surgery to public policy — to treat and prevent obesity.

Interview Highlights: Dr. John Morton

On the interplay between weight and taste

“It was really interesting because we hear that interplay between taste and weight gain and weight loss quite often just clinically. Patients would come in and tell you that sweet food doesn’t taste the same to me. Salty food doesn’t taste the same to me. So we decided to investigate it, to actually do a study. And we had little taste strips that were impregnated with the five components of taste—salt, sweet, bitter, umami and sour. The other thing that we also did was give them different gradations, or strengths, of intensity. Some were very mild and some were very strong, and what we found was a couple of interesting things.  One is that the obese patients in comparison to the control patients had less taste sensitivity. They could not distinguish the taste as well as a normal-weight person. This is all before surgery. To me, the implication there is perhaps obese patients are getting satisfaction, not necessarily through taste, but through volume.”

Dr. John Morton of Stanford University School of Medicine is president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. (Robin Lubbock/Here & Now)
Dr. John Morton of Stanford University School of Medicine is president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. (Robin Lubbock/Here & Now)

"Patients reported that they had less inclination towards salty food after surgery — that was one big thing — and in addition to that, we also saw some changes with their sensitivity as well."

On a new weight loss treatment

“The new treatment is the endoscopic intergastric balloon, and I think that’s something that’s going to be a game changer in many different ways. A lot of patients are not seeking out surgery. We have 18 million people in this country who qualify for weight loss surgery, and only 180,000 are getting the needed therapy. So I think the balloon is going to fill that treatment gap.”

“What we’re able to do without incision, we pass the endoscope into the stomach, inflate the balloon, and leave it in place. Now the balloon is only meant to be in place for six months. After that, we remove it and wait and see if it needs to be reinserted. The idea is in those six months that you are going to teach patients the right habits for long-term healthy success. I think that’s what the balloon will afford patients.”

Guest

  • Dr. John Morton, the chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine and president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

This segment aired on November 7, 2014.

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