October 25, 2010

The Negative Calorie Illusion - Do your calories also magically disappear from your plate?

A noteworthy study of Alexander Chernev in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (April 2011 issue) showed that people have misguided beliefs about the relationship between a meal healthiness and its impact on weight gain. Simply said; they believe that adding a healthy item (such as an apple or salad) to a meal magically decreases the number of calories in a meal.

The reason is that people tend to categorize foods as healty and unhealthy ones. Particularly dieters are more likely to believe in 'negative calories'.

This is not the first study on the so-called health halos. Health halos are associations that people have with certain foods or restaurants. Brian Wansink and Pierre Chandon found that there's a health halo around foods at restaurants like Subway that leads people to overeat on side dishes and grossly underestimate the number of calories they consume. Even organic foods have a health halo, as people believe they have fewer calories (according to a recent study of Schuldt and Schwarz).

Not so good news. At least, not for people who want to manage their weight and eat healthy. Good news for restaurants. Just simply add a salad to your meal or menu and everything looks more wholesome. Not surprising that most (fast food) restaurants already discovered this without doing any consumer research.

According to Chernev at his interesting blog: 'The focus of current public policy campaigns needs to shift away from the stereotypes associated with “good” and “bad” foods and toward the quantity of food consumed.'  I agree completely. And stop dieting: it poisons your mind with this kind of misbeliefs!

October 11, 2010

Our Food & Brand lab study in the USA Today!

Exciting day today! This morning I ran to the hotel lobby to get a copy of the USA Today. And why? Because our study (the one that I did with Brian Wansink and Mitsuru Shimizu at the Food and Brand lab last year) can be found at the Life section of this important newspaper.
I love the headline: 'Watch a fitness commercial and you just might eat less'. And this is what Nanci Hellmich, the journalist of the USA Today wrote:

'If you're struggling to eat less and keep your appetite under control, here's a tip: Try watching someone else exercising. People consumed less at meals after watching exercise-related commercials than they did after viewing other types of ads, a new study says. Researchers at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, N.Y., recruited 125 participants and had half watch TV exercise-related ads for running shoes and fitness centers. The other half watched ads for things such as car insurance and washing machines. Then all participants were offered a buffet lunch. Findings:
  • Those who saw the fitness messages ate 22% fewer calories at lunch than the others.
  • Participants who viewed the exercise commercials reported feeling more active, athletic and in better shape than those in the other group.
  • Those who watched the exercise messages thought the meal was healthier and liked it better than those watching the other ads.
The exercise commercials may have caused people to be more health- and body-conscious, says the study's lead author, Ellen van Kleef. She presented the results this weekend at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society in San Diego. The fitness messages reminded people of how much work it is to burn off calories, says Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell lab. "They realized that half-cup of pudding is going to mean a mile and half on the treadmill."'

Highlights Obesity 2010 conference San Diego

What is hot in obesity research and policy making? I am here in San Diego to find out at the Obesity conference.

One thing is clear. Obesity is a chronic disease and dieting as a temporary, special way of eating is not going to help people any further. Nothing new, one could say. Studies have shown over and over again that dieting is not such a good idea. However, that has not stopped people from trying. Diet books are among the best sellers in book sales rankings. People see dieting as something that you do for a limited time.

However, presenters at this conference stress it again and again; support should not stop after people lost a considerable amount of weight. Sustained approaches to deal with overweight over a lifetime are needed, according to Van Saxton Hubbard, winner of the Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award. 

My poster presentation 'Food Compensation: Do exercise ads change food intake?'

October 09, 2010

One year at the Food and Brand Lab: participating in discovering the why of people's eating habits

From September 2009 till August 2010 I worked at the Food and Brand lab at Cornell University in New York. I had such a good time there! It was wonderful to be part of this action-oriented and creative group of researchers, led by Dr. Brian Wansink.

The Food and Brand lab at Cornell University is best known for the famous studies of Brian on Mindless Eating. Mindless eating refers to the research finding that people make twenty times more food decisions that they are aware of. His studies have shown that people are easily influenced by subtle cues in their environment, including food packaging, signs, names, light, color, shapes and scents, the food stocked in your kitchen cabinet and so on. Still, if you ask people, they are usually unaware of these influences on what and how much they eat.

The lab is not large, but much is possible. For example, it can be transformed into a dining room where you can secretly watch people from behind two way mirrors. The great thing is that there is always someone working on a study, so lots of food is present. Working at the Food and Brand Lab was a year full of experiments, fun ideas and food. Now I am back at the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour Group of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, continuing my research in this fascinating field.
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