Subtle goal reminders, known as primes, can offset hedonic effects of food and facilitate health behavior

July 10, 2012

Research to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), the foremost society for research into all aspects of eating and drinking behavior, introduces novel cost-effective strategies to facilitate healthy eating among weight-conscious consumers. A number of experiments, by Esther Papies and colleagues of Utrecht University, The Netherlands, now suggest that simply adding words related to health and weight on posters, restaurant menu's, or recipe cards can stimulate healthy food choices among dieters and overweight individuals, in a variety of real-life settings.

Affecting the choices of these individuals is especially relevant since their eating behavior is heavily influenced by attractive temptations which abound in our daily lives. The current living environment in most Western societies makes weight control a difficult enterprise for health-conscious individuals. Numerous studies have now revealed that conscious intentions for healthy eating and dieting are not sufficient for pattern - rather, consumers are heavily influenced by their eating habits, and by food temptations in their environment. Furthermore, people struggling with their weight are especially susceptible to the effects of such easily available food temptations. Chronic dieters and overweight people show strong hedonic responses to tasty, high-calorie food cues in both behavioral and neuro-imaging studies, and easily overeat when they are around attractive food. Thus, it is especially important to bolster these individuals against these detrimental effects of our "obesity promoting environment".

Previous research by Papies and colleagues has shown that priming methods can help dieters eat fewer high-calorie tasty snacks. In a field experiment, customers of a local butcher store were observed on days when a poster announcing a dieting recipe had been mounted on the door, and on other days when the poster was not present. When the diet recipe reminded dieters of their health goal, they ate less of the bite-size meat snacks the store offered than on other days. Customers who were not concerned with controlling their weight were not affected. Thus, goal priming is an effective strategy to help weight-concerned individuals translate their intentions into behavior, especially when faced with temptation .

More recent experiments have replicated this finding in different settings. A study now under review shows that subtle goal primes incorporated into the menu of a restaurant lead overweight and weight-concerned individuals to order more healthy meals, such as salads.

Most recently, this priming method was applied in a in a grocery store. Here, overweight and diet-concerned individuals who were handed a recipe flyer with health-related words before shopping bought less unhealthy snacks, such as chips, cookies, and cake. Interestingly, this was hardly affected by how much attention participants said they had paid to the recipes. It seems very little conscious awareness is needed for such primes to affect health behavior. Although preliminary, these findings are especially promising: food decisions made in the grocery store affect eating behavior at home, and that means the whole family could benefit.

This technique has great potential as an intervention to help weight control - it is unobtrusive, easy to implement and low in cost making it attractive to policy makers.

Explore further: Would you stop eating out to lose weight?

Related Stories

Would you stop eating out to lose weight?

January 10, 2012
Going out to eat has become a major part of our culture. Frequently eating out and consuming high-calorie foods in large portions at restaurants can contribute to excess calorie intake and weight gain. However, a study in ...

Mid-morning snacking may sabotage weight-loss efforts

November 28, 2011
Women dieters who grab a snack between breakfast and lunch lose less weight compared to those who abstain from a mid-morning snack, according to a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Recommended for you

Amber-tinted glasses may provide relief for insomnia

December 15, 2017
How do you unwind before bedtime? If your answer involves Facebook and Netflix, you are actively reducing your chance of a good night's sleep. And you are not alone: 90 percent of Americans use light-emitting electronic devices, ...

Warning labels can help reduce soda consumption and obesity, new study suggests

December 15, 2017
Labels that warn people about the risks of drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can lower obesity and overweight prevalence, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

Office work can be a pain in the neck

December 15, 2017
Neck pain is a common condition among office workers, but regular workplace exercises can prevent and reduce it, a University of Queensland study has found.

Regular takeaways linked to kids' heart disease and diabetes risk factors

December 14, 2017
Kids who regularly eat take-away meals may be boosting their risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Your pets can't put your aging on 'paws'

December 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—In a finding that's sure to ruffle some fur and feathers, scientists report that having a pet doesn't fend off age-related declines in physical or mental health.

Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

December 14, 2017
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.