Subtle influences behind our food choices revealed

Growing up poor promotes eating in the absence of hunger in adulthood, while the label 'healthy' actually turns people off from consuming healthy food.

By: IANS | New York | Published:January 31, 2016 4:50 pm
Socioeconomic status, SES, hunger, food choices, eating patterns, adulthood, obesity, weight gain, weight management, social psychologist, personality psychologists, healthy, symbols, labels, serving order, Society for Personality and Social Psychology The label ‘healthy’ on food seems to turn people off. A symbol — like the healthy heart symbol — on the other hand, works much better. (Source: Thinkstock Images)

Childhood socioeconomic status might influence an individual’s food choices as adults, says a study, adding that growing up poor has a long-term impact on eating patterns.

“Our research finds that growing up poor promotes eating in the absence of hunger in adulthood, regardless of one’s adult socioeconomic status,” said Sarah Hill from the Texas Christian University in the US.

A person’s developmental history may play a key role in their relationship with food and weight management, rendering those from lower socioeconomic status (SES) environments more vulnerable to unhealthy weight gain, the findings showed.

People with higher childhood SES ate more when need was high than when need was low. This relationship was not observed among those with lower childhood SES. Individuals with lower childhood SES consumed comparably high amounts of food whether their current energy need was high or low, revealed the study.

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With many individuals facing issues with obesity weight management, social and personality psychologists are at the forefront of understanding the psychological motivations for healthy food choices and consumption patterns.

Another study — part of the same research — says that serving order and labels influence healthy eating.

The study found that adults respond better to healthy symbols rather than the word ‘healthy’. “The word ‘healthy’ seems to turn people off, particularly when it appears on foods that are obviously healthy. The subtle health message — such as the healthy heart symbol — seemed to be more effective at leading people to choose a healthy option,” said Traci Mann and her lab at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in the US.

To understand how people responded to framing healthy food options, the researchers conducted field studies by providing adults with various types of snacks.

In the first study with about 400 adults, 65 per cent took an apple — instead of candy — if the healthy heart symbol was on the sign, but only 45 per cent took an apple if the word ‘healthy’ was on the sign. In the second study of about 300 adults, 20 per cent took carrots — instead of chips — if a sign said ‘healthy’, and 30 per cent took carrots if the sign had a healthy heart symbol on it.

The findings were presented as part of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology 17th Annual Convention.

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