Preliminary studies at the University of Florida College of Dentistry say those cravings may not be due to a lack of willpower, but to a history of chronic ear infections.
The studies suggest that repeated infections may damage a vital taste-sending nerve in children, causing them to prefer rich foods, and making them prone to gain more weight later.
According to the research, people with a serious history of childhood ear infections are about 70 per cent more likely to be obese than those with no history of infections.
The infections are believed to damage the chorda tympani nerve - a crucial nerve which rungs through the tongue, along the side of the face, and behind the eardrum and to the brain. Researchers say most people with the damaged nerves may not realize why they can't stay away from the high-fat, high-sweet foods.
Linda Bartoshuk, a scientist with the University of Florida's Center for Taste and Smell, says, "They simply like high-fat, high-sweet foods better. And the more food you take in, the more you weigh."
The discover was made through analyzing voluntary surveys from more than 6,500 people, who answered questions about preferences on 26 sweet, salty, and fatty foods. They were also asked whether they'd had ear infections, and what their age, height, and weight were.
Overall, about 17 per cent of those with moderate to severe ear infections were obese, compared to 10 per cent of those with no infection history. Another 30 per cent with histories of infection were overweight, more than those without infections.