Proximity of Food Influences Calorie Intake

Summary
Some studies in the past have shown that in the homes of obese people, food is kept in such a way that it is more visible. In the present study, the researchers examined whether visibility and proximity influence food consumption. They used office candy to assess this correlation. “The results showed that the proximity and visibility of a food can consistently increase an adult’s consumption of it.” It was seen that when candies were kept nearby and were visible, the participants underestimated the number of candies that were being consumed.

Introduction
Many factors such as taste, mood, social context and stress influence the amount of food a person consumes. In the present study, the researchers examined whether easy accessibility of a food item and seeing it with the eyes also influence consumption. This was done because existing data on this matter is inconclusive. The researchers of the current study also examined whether proximity to food alters the personal estimation of the amount of food consumed. They felt that the findings of this study would greatly help dieticians and health professionals treating obese individuals. This study is relevant to even those individuals who are highly conscious about their calorie intake. It may be concluded that keeping food at a slight distance and in opaque containers will help to resist the temptation to consume food.

Methodology

  • Forty female staff members at the University of Illinois were recruited for the study. They were divided into four groups.
  • Four chocolate placement conditions were created – nearby and visible, further away and visible, nearby and non-visible, and further away and non-visible. The chocolates were kept 2 m away from the participant, in the further away condition; they were placed in opaque containers, in the non-visible condition.
  • Each condition was applied to every group for a week. After the completion of one week, the average number of chocolates that the participants consumed was calculated.
  • Later, a questionnaire was given to all the participants, where they were asked to estimate how many chocolates they had consumed over a week. They were also asked to rate their desire to eat chocolates in each of the conditions.

Results

  • “As a baseline, when the candies were less visible and less proximate, the average person ate 3.1 candies each day. When the bowl was more visible and more proximate, however, intake increased. People ate an average of 2.5 more candies each day when they were less proximate but visible, 1.5 more when they were proximate but non-visible and 4.6 more when they were proximate and visible.”
  • In the nearby and visible condition, participants underestimated the number of chocolates they ate.
  • Most of the participants agreed that when the chocolates were visible and close at hand, it was more difficult for them to resist.

Shortcomings
Some of the earlier studies have shown that the increase in food intake when it is nearby and visible, applies only to foods that are convenient to consume, like chips, and not things like soup or cookie dough. The body mass index of participants was not measured. As it is a major factor, further studies must take them into consideration.

Conclusion
This study proves that when food is visible and kept nearby, people tend to eat more. At the same time, they underestimate the amount of food that they have consumed. This has a very significant implication for people who monitor and control their or their patients’ food intake. Keeping food away from a person will make it easy for a person to reduce calorie intake. Some of the participants felt that increasing the distance of food placement not only made it more inconvenient to eat, but also gave them extra time while walking across to reconsider if they really were hungry. The researchers feel that the results, if applied to fruits and vegetables, may prove to be more beneficial for health. By keeping a bowl of fruits and vegetables nearby, one can increase their consumption of these foods.

For More Information:
The Office Candy Dish: Proximity’s Influence on Estimated and Actual Consumption
Publication Journal: International Journal of Obesity, January 2006
By B Wansink; J E Painter
From the Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.



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