Rowe Researcher: Assessing the 2012 NHANES Chemosensory Component

Summer-Fall 2013: Assessing the Validity and Reliability of the 2012 NHANES Chemosensory Component

By Mallory Honda, Shristi Rawal, Dr. Valerie Duffy

In 2012, the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) added a new chemosensory component to assess the prevalence of taste and smell disorders at a national level. NHANES is a nationally-representative survey of the U.S. population based on questionnaires and measures taken at mobile examination centers (MECs). The chemosensory component includes collection of self-reported data as well as taste and smell assessments carried out by researchers. Because the sense of taste is redundant (carried by many cranial nerves), reported loss of taste is rare and often actually due to decreased sense of smell which is much more liable to damage through aging, injury, or infection.

Beginning in the summer of 2013, I have been working with graduate student Shristi Rawal and Dr. Valerie Duffy to assess the validity and reliability of the chemosensory component. The NHANES Pocket Smell Test (8-item scratch and sniff test) was compared to an olfactometer (machine which produces 40 odorants), and the use of quinine as a suprathreshold measure of overall taste ability was compared to PROP (a known suprathreshold tastant) and other solutions. Taste and smell disorders are important to investigate, as they can impact dietary preferences and ingestive behaviors. Supertasters show lower intake of bitter foods, such as alcohol and vegetables, while those with chemosensory disorders are likely to have increased intake of high fat-sweet foods, alcohol, and sugar, linked with obesity, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. Very little research has been conducted on chemosensory disorders at an epidemiological level, and the component will help to give an idea of the prevalence, impact, and possible interventions for such disorders.

Read Molly’s thesis.