Don’t be Duped by Food in Small Packages – Study Shows You’ll Eat More

We all know we should reduce portion size to manage calories and weight gain. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, subjects who were offered potato chips from either large or small packages were more likely to eat from the smaller bags, but thought twice about even opening a big bag of chips. The message is that foods offered in small packages might dupe consumers into believing they are reducing their “hedonistic consumption” of snacks by choosing smaller portions.

Authors of the study believe consumers might think small packages offer “innocent pleasures: when in fact, they’re more tempting. It’s a sneaky way to get food to your mouth, as most health conscious people would indeed think twice about buying a big bag of cookies, chips or a bucket of ice cream.

Authors Rita Coelho do Vale (Technical University of Lisbon), Rik Pieters, and Marcel Zeelenberg ( Tilburg University, the Netherlands) say, "The increasing availability of single-serve and multi-packs may not serve consumers in the long-run, but—because they are considered to be innocent pleasures—may turn out to be sneaky small sins."

The researchers asked two groups of subjects to watch the television series, “Friends”, telling them they would be evaluating advertisements. One group was weighed and measured in front of a mirror in addition to completing a "Body Satisfaction scale," a "Drive for Thinness scale," and a "Concern for Dieting scale," thereby activating their “dietary concerns”. The other group did not have dieting concerns "activated". The researchers then observed the eating behavior of the two groups, noting that there was more deliberation over opening the large packages of chips, and that the group who was weighed and measured was less likely to open the bigger bag of snacks.

The authors concluded, "Maybe the answer lies in consumers taking responsibility for their consumption and monitoring internal cues of sufficiency, rather than letting package size take control."

Journal of Consumer Research: October 2008.


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