Food at Your Fingertips

The food at your fingertips is the food you will eat. This basic fact of human behavior is something that food and beverage marketers have understood and factored into their work for many decades. A new study in Appetite adds to the growing behavioral research literature showing that — surprise — people eat the food that is close at hand.

In a controlled, randomized study, Gregory Privitera and Faris Zuraikat compared the effect of proximity on consumption of apple slices and buttered popcorn. Though the subjects clearly liked the buttered popcorn better than the apples, it was proximity that determined what people ate and how many calories they consumed.

With the lower-calorie apples close at hand, subjects ate more apples and fewer calories. With buttered popcorn closer, that’s what they ate and they consumed more calories. With both foods close at hand, subjects ate both foods and calories consumed were equivalent to the group that had just the buttered popcorn at hand.

Coca-Cola Sold EverywhereSo this is why food marketers put so much energy and resource into retail product placement. This is why Coke and Pepsi have worked to hard for more than a century to be sure that wherever you find yourself wanting an ice-cold Coke or Pepsi, you can find it nearby. Likewise this observation lines up nicely with work by Kevin Hall, Carson Chow, and others who have suggested that the production and distribution of food in ever-growing quantities serves to fuel growth in obesity prevalence.

Through the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, some of these same marketers are applying their consumer insight to take trillions of calories out of the food supply. No doubt they will do it in a way that serves their business interests. So be it. If this effort removes some of the supply-side pressure on obesity prevalence, the progress will be welcome.

Watch closely for good research to document if this actually happens.

Click here to read the study by Privitera and Zuraikat, here to read more about the influence of food production and distribution on obesity, and here to read more about Big Food taking calories out of the food supply.

Take My Hand, photograph © Vanessa Hall / flickr

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2 Responses to “Food at Your Fingertips”

  1. June 03, 2014 at 9:38 am, Lester Pyle said:

    I read an article before we had kids about “open cupboard”, the notion that having rules on certain foods made them more desirable. In my case it was Oreos. The article’s main premise is that if you have a lot of different foods around children will pick what is healthy. Also, allow your kids to eat whenever they want, even up to dinner time. So when we had kids we purchased lots of different foods AND their wishlist foods and kept them around all the time i.e. tomatoes, raspberries, brownies… everything they asked for.

    Well, as far as I can tell it worked, both of my kids are in great condition AND have very good eating habits, not like me!

    • June 03, 2014 at 11:07 am, Ted said:

      One smart father, I’d say.