Do men have greater chewing power than women?

Behind the Headlines

Monday February 9 2015

The study found women took longer to eat their meals

Eating behaviours may be linked to obesity risk

"Why men wolf down their meals while women take their time: The sexes have different chewing patterns," the Mail Online reports, after a Korean study found men had "greater eating power" than women.

This small study compared the chewing behaviours of 48 young Korean men and women in controlled laboratory conditions.

It found men took bigger bites, had greater chewing power, and ate faster than women. Women chewed more and took longer to finish their food.

But this study has considerable limitations – mainly, that its results may not apply to wider populations, such as people of different ages or from different countries.

This highly controlled experiment, where participants ate plain boiled rice while monitors were attached to their jaws, may not even be representative of how the volunteers would chew in a real-life situation.

Overall, this research is not sufficient to conclusively say that men and women have different chewing patterns, or what the implications of this might be.

It is probably better to concern yourself with what and how much you are eating rather than how long you take to chew and swallow your food.

 

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from Semyung and Hanyang Universities in the Republic of Korea. It was funded by the Korean Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Physiology and Behavior, and is available to read online or download as a PDF on an open-access basis.

The Mail Online's reporting was generally accurate, but did not point out the relatively limited applicability and implications of this study.

 

What kind of research was this?

This was an experiment comparing eating behaviours and chewing in men and women. It also looked at whether obesity influenced these behaviours.

The researchers say some previous studies found that obese individuals chew faster and take bigger bites than those who are not obese, while other studies have reached different conclusions.

They say there have been similar findings looking at the different ways men and women eat.

This study design is reasonable for assessing eating behaviours, but the highly controlled setting of the experiment may not be representative of people's behaviours in everyday life.

 

What did the research involve?

The researchers recruited 24 male and 24 female volunteers to eat portions of rice. They compared the volunteers' reported eating behaviours, and also measured their chewing under controlled conditions in the lab.

They then looked at whether there were differences between men and women, or between those who were heading towards being obese (pre-obese) and those who were not.

To be eligible to take part, the volunteers had to be aged 20 to 29 years, have a full set of healthy teeth, and no eating disorders. The researchers recruited people who were:

  • non-obese – body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 23, and a waist circumference less than 80cm for women and 90cm for men
  • pre-obese – BMI 25 or over, and a waist circumference of 80cm or more for women, and 90cm or more for men

The volunteers filled out a standard questionnaire assessing their subjective views about their control of three dietary behaviours:

  • restraint – ability to cognitively control eating behaviour
  • disinhibition – susceptibility to eating in response to emotional factors and sensory cues, such as smells
  • hunger – susceptibility to eating in response to hunger

They then took part in the eating experiment in the lab. They fasted for 12 hours overnight and had not exercised for 24 hours. They were then all given 152g of boiled rice to eat served with 200ml of water.

The researchers asked the volunteers to rate their hunger and fullness before and after eating the rice. While the volunteers were eating the rice, the researchers measured their chewing using sensors attached to the jaw.

 

What were the basic results?

The researchers found that:

  • pre-obese volunteers reported greater susceptibility to eating in response to emotional factors and sensory cues than non-obese volunteers
  • women and men differed in their chewing, but pre-obese and non-obese individuals did not
  • men took bigger bites than women
  • men's chewing power (the muscle pressure exerted by their jaws) was greater than women's
  • men ate faster than women
  • women chewed more than men
  • women took longer to finish their rice than men

The researchers found men who reported greater susceptibility to eating in response to emotional factors and sensory cues tended to eat faster.

Both men and women who reported greater susceptibility to eating in response to emotional factors and sensory cues tended to have a smaller bite size and less chewing power.

 

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers concluded that, "The results suggest that the effects of gender, and, in part, obesity, on eating responses may be explained as chewing performance."

They say this means that, "Gender-specific interventions and counselling aimed at slowing the rate of ingestion could be promising behavioural treatments for obese persons."

 

Conclusion

This small study suggests that chewing behaviours in controlled laboratory conditions differ between young Korean men and women.

But this study of just 48 people has considerable limitations. Its results may not apply to wider populations, such as people of different ages or from different countries.

This highly controlled experiment, where participants ate plain boiled rice while monitors were attached to their jaws, may not even be representative of how the volunteers would chew in a real-life situation.

The many statistical tests carried out also mean that some may be statistically significant by chance.

Although the researchers found some differences between men and women in chewing, they did not find any between those who were considered pre-obese and those who were not obese.

It is not possible to say from this study whether the "gender-specific interventions and counselling aimed at slowing the rate of ingestion" would indeed "be promising behavioural treatments for obese persons", as suggested by the authors.

This study does not provide compelling evidence of differences between men and women in "masticatory performance", or whether these can lead to increased fitness, better health, or weight loss.

Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Why men wolf down their meals while women take their time: The sexes have different chewing patterns. Mail Online, February 9 2015

Links to the science

Park S, Weon-Sun S. Differences in eating behaviors and masticatory performances by gender and obesity status. Physiology & Behavior. Published online October 18 2014

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