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Quick Statistics About Taste and Smell

Taste

  • Almost 1 in 5 Americans (or 19 percent) over the age of 40 reports some alteration in their sense of taste.1
    • The prevalence of reported alterations in the sense of taste increases with age, and is highest, at 27 percent, for people ages 80 years and older.1
    • Risk factors include dry mouth, nose/facial injury, lower educational attainment, and fair/poor health.1
  • 1 in 20 Americans (or 5 percent) reports experiencing dysgeusia [dis-GYOO-zee-a], a disorder characterized by distorted taste.1 This disorder is often persistent.
    • Dysgeusia is more commonly reported in women (64 percent of reported cases).1
  • Based on their genetics, certain people can taste the bitterness of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) or a related substance called 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP). In the U.S., about 25 percent are super-tasters who describe PTC as extremely bitter, 50 percent are medium tasters of PTC, and 25 percent cannot taste PTC.2 Medium tasters and especially super-tasters tend to dislike more types of food, particularly if they are strongly flavored.3

Smell

  • Nearly 1 in 4 Americans (or 23 percent) over the age of 40 reports some alteration in their sense of smell.1
    • Rates increase in older populations and are highest for those over 80 years old, at 32 percent.1
    • Risk factors include sinonasal symptoms (of the nose and sinuses), heavy drinking, previous loss of consciousness from head injury, poverty, and dry mouth.1
  • Approximately 1 in 8 Americans over age 40 (up to 13.3 million people, or 12.4 percent of the population) has measurable smell dysfunction.5
    • Approximately 3 percent of Americans have anosmia (no sense of smell) or severe hyposmia (minimal sense of smell).5
    • The prevalence of any type of smell impairment increases with age: 4 percent in Americans ages 40-49, 11 percent in Americans ages 50-59, 13 percent in Americans ages 60-69, 25 percent in Americans 70-79, and 39 percent in Americans ages 80 and above.5
    • The prevalence of smell impairment is higher in men, ethnic minorities (non-Hispanic Black and Mexican American), and in those with lower educational attainment and/or family income.5

Sources

  1. Rawal S, Hoffman HJ, Bainbridge KE, Huedo-Medina TB, Duffy VB. Prevalence and risk factors of self-reported smell and taste alterations: Results from the 2011–2012 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Chem Senses. 2016; 41: 69–76.
  2. Guo SW, Reed DR. The genetics of phenylthiocarbamide perception. Annals of Human Biology. 2001;28(2): 111–142.
  3. Tepper BJ. 6-n-Propylthiouracil: A genetic marker for taste, with implications for food preference and dietary habits. American Journal of Human Genetics. 1998;63(5):1271-1276.
  4. Bainbridge KE, Byrd-Clark D, Leopold D. Factors associated with phantom odor perception among US adults: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2018;144(9):807–814.
  5. Hoffman HJ, Rawal S, Li CM, Duffy VB. New chemosensory component in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES): First year results for measured olfactory dysfunction. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2016; 17(2): 221-240.
Last Updated Date: 
February 27, 2019