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> Researcher Links Obesity, Food Portions, Hmmmm :-)
post Jan 2 2004, 09:42 PM
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - With self-refilling bowls of soup and jumbo buckets of stale popcorn, professor Brian Wansink has identified one culprit for U.S. obesity: excessive food portions.

The University of Illinois researcher has set up several food experiments that show the more people are given, the more they will eat ? regardless of whether they are full or think the food tastes good.

"In the obesity war, portion size is the first casualty," said Wansink, who founded the University of Illinois' Food & Brand Lab. "It's easy to point at, and we don't have to take responsibility because we can blame the restaurant or the packaged food manufacturer."

Wansink and other researchers hope the results can help the federal government devise more user-friendly nutrition labels for packaged foods. For example, instead of stating that a handful of granola has 200 calories, the label instead could say the consumer would have to walk 2 miles to burn it off.

His experiments ? which have included tomato soup, popcorn and potato chips ? target the visual clues people use to tell them it's time to stop eating.

In the soup experiment, participants come to the lab expecting a taste test. Some bowls are rigged with hidden tubes that keep them full, while others are not.

Over two years of the experiment, students with bottomless bowls tended to eat 40 percent more than test subjects with regular bowls.

"I wasn't aware of it," said Nina Huesgen, one of the students who got a trick bowl in a recent experiment. "That's why I feel so filled up, I guess."

James Painter, chairman of Eastern Illinois University's Family and Consumer Sciences Department, who collaborated with Wansink on the experiment, said one student drank almost a quart of soup.

"I said, 'What were you doing?' And he said, 'I was trying to reach the bottom of the bowl,'" Painter said.

Another telling experiment came outside Philadelphia, where Wansink offered free popcorn to moviegoers at a $1 movie theater. Half the audience was given fresh popcorn, either in small containers or in jumbo buckets; half received 14-day-old popcorn in small and jumbo containers.

Even though 82 percent of the people with the old popcorn reported it tasted terrible, those with the jumbo buckets ate 33 percent more than those with the smaller container.

Wansink has come up with ways the food industry could help, such as offering visual clues to what an adequate portion should be.

An experiment with Lay's Stax potato chips gave one group regular chips, a second group chips in which every seventh chip was red, and a third group chips in which every 14th chip was red.

The groups weren't told the reason for the red chips but still used them to determine how much to eat, Wansink said. The participants who ate the least had the potato chips in which every seventh chip was red, followed by the group in which every 14th chip was red.

Such research has produced commonsense tips for the weight-conscious.

For example, people who drank out of short, fat glasses consumed considerably more than those who used tall, skinny glasses, even though the glasses held the same amount.

"The tendency we have is to focus on heights instead of widths," Wansink wrote in a report on the study. "That's why, for instance, people say, 'Boy, is the St. Louis Arch high.' But they never say, 'Boy, is it wide,' even though the dimensions are identical."


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Food & Brand Lab: http://www.consumerpsychology.com/
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