A new Cornell University study has found that, when an overweight diner is present at a meal, one is likely to serve and eat more unhealthy foods and less healthy foods.
Researchers recruited 82 undergraduate college students to eat a spaghetti and salad lunch and hired an actress to wear a prosthesis that added 23 kilograms to her normally average weight.
Each of the 82 participants was randomly assigned to one of four scenarios:
The actress served herself healthfully (more salad and less pasta) while wearing the prosthesis
The actress served herself the same healthy meal without the prosthesis
The actress served herself less healthfully (more pasta and less salad) while wearing the prosthesis
The actress served herself the same less healthy meal without the prosthesis
Participants in each scenario viewed the actress serving herself and then served themselves pasta and salad.
Researchers found that when the actress wore the prosthesis and appeared overweight, the other participants served and ate 31,6% more pasta regardless of whether she served herself mostly pasta or mostly salad. When she wore the prosthesis and served herself more salad, the other participants actually served and ate 43.5% less salad.
The study, which was co-authored by Katie Johnson of Mayo Medical School and Brian Wansink, PhD director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab and author of the new book: Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, demonstrates that people may serve and eat larger portions of unhealthy foods when eating with an overweight person, because they are less in tune with their own health goals.
Luckily, this phenomenon is easy to avoid. Wansink recommends, "Look up the menu beforehand and select a meal that suits your dietary goals. Or, if you're going to a buffet, pre-commit to selecting modest portions of healthy foods and with that goal in mind, those around you will have less of a negative influence over what you eat."
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