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Mindful Eating Crusader To Take Top US Nutrition Post
Erica Barnett, 29 Nov 07
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"Every now and then, something incredible happens and here it is" ubernutritionist and What to Eat author Marion Nestle wrote recently. Nestle was referring to the altogether surprising news that the George W. Bush Administration had appointed Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell University, to head the US Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the branch of the USDA that's responsible for dispensing dietary advice to the American public.

Wansink is the author of the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think -- a groundbreaking work on the psychology of eating. Both in his book and on his excellent web site, Wansink takes a tough look at the psychological reasons people, particularly Americans, overeat. His work has linked social factors that influence how we eat, and how much, to the epidemic of obesity in the US and around the world. His work has been credited with prompting the advent of 100-calorie snack packs, which food manufacturers initially opposed because they believed consumers wouldn't buy them.

Among Wansink’s fascinating conclusions about the macro-food environment:

  • The larger the serving dish and the greater the variety of foods on the table, the more food people serve themselves. With snacks, for example, people took 50 percent more food if it was served from a large bowl instead of a small one. In one of the most fascinating examples of this principle, researchers served a free soup lunch to 54 adults. Half were given soup in normal 18-ounce bowls; the other half received bowls that, unbeknownst to them, were attached by tubing to a vat of soup that constantly replenished the soup in the bowl. Those who had the refilling bowls at 73 percent more soup and reported feeling no more full than those whose soup came in regular bowls.
  • In virtually every case studied, people who bought bulk packages of food from discount clubs like Sam's or Costco had eaten half of what they bought within a week after buying it. That was true whether the item in question was a five-pound tub of pretzels or a 32-pack of Fritos corn chips.
  • In another experiment cited in the book, Wansink and his grad students handed out stale, five-day-old popcorn to moviegoers, using medium- and large-size buckets. Despite some complaints about the quality of the stale corn, those who received larger buckets ate more popcorn than those who were given smaller containers.
  • In what he has dubbed the "McSubway study," Wansink found that people were more likely to overconsume at restaurants they perceived as "healthy" (a Subway, for example, as opposed to a McDonalds) -- and less likely to be aware they were doing so. In fact, people tended to underestimate the number of calories in food at "healthy" fast-food restaurants by an average of 35 percent.

In addition to his book, Wansink has issued the National Mindless Eating Challenge, encouraging and supporting people in making small changes that lead to eating more mindfully, as well as monitoring the results.

The food industry, as Ethicurean points out, is a force to be reckoned with. In the US, food companies spend tens of billions of dollars on advertising and marketing every year; the USDA’s budget for nutrition policy and promotion, in contrast, is a mere $300 million. Wansink's duties at the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion will include revamping the national 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the Food Pyramid, a contested guide that is supposed to help Americans make good dietary choices. But if anybody’s up to this task, it's Wansink, a dietary crusader who has dedicated his career to promoting better nutrition and healthier attitudes toward food.

Food industry, take heed: There's a new sheriff in town.

Image credit: flickr/paul goyette

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Comments

I'm not familiar with Professor Wansink's work, but I find the concept fascinating and easily applicable to American consumerism in general. Wouldn't it seem to follow that we must be likely to "eat more" out of the "big bowls" from which we feed, namely Costco, Walmart, and every other mega store there is? Obviously American retailers have tapped into whatever is at work in our brains that convinces us that if enough is good, then more must be better. Is there any way out of this spiral? Does small, local, specialized retailing solve the problem?


Posted by: Sam on 29 Nov 07

I wonder if the good professor Wansink is familiar with the Bodega Food Pyramid?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=11nsZ3lEWD0

"A humorous yet searing commentary about the choices confronting people who live in "the poorest urban county in the country." Under the yellow awning of the Bronx Bodega, all the important food groups are represented. Join Dallas Penn of DallasPenn.com and Rafi Kam of OhWord.com as they illustrate the finer points of the Bodega Food Pyramid."


Posted by: Daniel B. Simon on 1 Dec 07

I wonder if the good professor Wansink is familiar with the Bodega Food Pyramid?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=11nsZ3lEWD0

"A humorous yet searing commentary about the choices confronting people who live in "the poorest urban county in the country." Under the yellow awning of the Bronx Bodega, all the important food groups are represented. Join Dallas Penn of DallasPenn.com and Rafi Kam of OhWord.com as they illustrate the finer points of the Bodega Food Pyramid."


Posted by: Daniel B. Simon on 1 Dec 07



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