How snacking is influenced

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It’s well known that portion size affects food intake… so could doubling portion sizes facilitate a healthy diet?

Deakin Business School’s Professor of Marketing Chris Dubelaar worked with researchers in France and Australia to test if doubling the portion size of healthy foods increased consumption as it does with unhealthy foods, and if the amount of food eaten differed according to the eating environment.

The findings showed that factors such as portion size and even what people watch while eating had an impact on health-related behaviours.

The first part of the study involved 153 French university students, who were given small or large servings of a healthy (apple chips) or unhealthy (potato chips) snack in a laboratory setting, to eliminate potential social influences.

For the second part of the study, 77 high school students attending a film festival were given a small or large serve of baby carrots as a snack.

The students then watched either a film about a restaurant that included many eating scenes, or a romantic comedy with no food-focused content

The researchers found that doubling the portions increased consumption of both healthy and unhealthy snacks, which they say means that people could potentially increase their portion sizes to fill up on healthy food and avoid junk food.

Further, in the second part of the study, the portion size effect with the healthy snacks was influenced by the movie being watched.

Those who viewed the food-related film ate less than those watching the romantic comedy – that is, those participants who watched people eating on film felt less inclined to indulge themselves, the researchers say.

Professor Dubelaar says the study findings present interesting insights into the potential for manipulating portion size as a way to increase healthy eating.

“Previous studies have found that people will eat more unhealthy food when presented with a large portion size,” he says.

“The results of our current study tell us that this portion size effect also holds true with healthy foods, which opens up the potential for adjusting portion size when trying to encourage healthier eating habits.

“For example, parents trying to get their children to eat more veggies could serve up larger portions. This would also work for healthy snacks such as fruit or any food you want someone to eat more of.”

Professor Dubelaar says it is particularly interesting that during the food-oriented film, all participants ate the same amount of food from both the large and the small portions.

“This tells us that our food environment has an even larger impact on our consumption than we thought. This also provides an opportunity for those seeking to control intake to consider their environment when they’re eating to help reduce the effects of portion size,” he says.

Professor Dubelaar’s full study “Might bigger portions of healthier snack food help?” has now been published online ahead of print publication in the Food Quality and Preference journal.

The study was conducted by researchers at Deakin University, the Grenoble Ecole de Management, University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

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