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Welcome to this site, all interested in resilient farming!

Welcome to this site, all interested in resilient farming!

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Food Hero: Brian Wansank -- so what makes us overeat?

So, what makes us overeat?

Even early in his academic career, Brian Wansink was researching how and why it was that people just didn’t like to eat vegetables. He earned a PhD at Stanford looking at consumer choices for fruits and vegetables, and the role of marketing, in particular.
Cafeteria fruits, Wansink website

He later took on the fast-food chains, and soda manufacturers (as “real food” substitutes), both of which in either their environments and/or marketing encourage people to overeat. Back in the United States, he noticed that

He noticed that people don’t really eat. Some of us in the United States just shove food in our mouths until something makes us stop. For Wansink, it’s mostly external factors, in our obesigenic environment as he calls it, that influence our food intake more than anything else.

One of his major findings has to do with internal cues (hunger) vs. external stimuli (who you’re eating with, size of serving bowls, etc) in controlling food consumption – basically, that people eat for volume (the volume that is set before them), and not for specific calories. In English: People eat whatever is put in front of them), i.e.,  they are influenced more by plate volume, size, and eating environment than by whether they are hungry or not. Ergo, we end up eating when we’re not really hungry.

Wansink claims that although people identify hunger and taste as the main factors in determining what they eat, the evidence shows otherwise: one’s eating partner can be just as influential, as well as environmental influences (level of lighting),[1] [2] as well as labeling of foods (such as wine[3]). Labeling can be very persuasive. For example, low-fat labels can strongly influence food buying, even when the calorie content is not much different than other foods (190). A table of his gargantuan work (at one time, I figured he and his team were publishing about five refereed articles a month) follows. I should note that his is a most gracious laboratory, taking interns, fellows, post-docs, and even a marauding professor (such as myself). Observing his work in August 2012, I witnessed at work a multi-disciplined set of researchers, creating excitement in all that they do. Wansink and his colleagues, unlike other researchers, are very happy to make recommendations and guide any and all (especially children) away from sugared and processed foods.

[1] And others. Review Wansink’s Dining in the dark B45study – where people eat more in the dark….he quotes Tessla on the first page. Who said he wouldn’t eat anything that he could not visually judge the size of before he ate it…..Even Tesla was aware that physiological cues pale din comparison to visual ones. B46 --  visual cues are all important for estimating satiety.
[2] As well as food industry promotions (Brownell & Horgen)
[3] Brian Wansink says that being aware of “heuristics” (environmental cues that get us to overeat: big plates and bottomless bowls) can help us to mindlessly eat less, rather than mindlessly eat more. Beware especially of foods with “health halos,” and how consumer preferences can be shaped by any label, enticing as they may be (see “Fine as Dakota Wine” (REF)).

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