Does seeing overweight people make us eat more?

Apr 19, 2011

Consumers will choose and eat more indulgent food after they see someone who is overweight—unless they consciously think about their health goals, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Why do people often think back on a pleasant evening with friends and realize that they ate more and worse food than they wish they had?" ask authors Margaret C. Campbell (Leeds School of Business) and Gina S. Mohr (University of Colorado, Boulder). If any of those friends carry a few extra pounds, just being in their presence could trigger what the authors call a "negative stereotype."

The research suggests that merely seeing someone who is strongly associated with an undesirable behavior leads to surprising increases in the behavior. "Seeing someone leads to a temporary decrease in a person's own felt commitment to his or her health goal," the authors explain.

In one study, researchers asked people who were walking through a lobby if they would take a quick survey. The surveys had photos of an overweight person, a person of normal weight, or a lamp. After completing the survey, the researchers asked respondents to help themselves from a bowl of candy as a thank you. "People who completed the survey that included a picture of someone who was overweight took more candies on average than people who saw either of the other two pictures," the authors write.

In subsequent studies, people who were invited to do a cookie taste test ate twice as many cookies or candy after seeing someone who was overweight. This was true even if the participants had a goal to maintain a healthy weight and believed that cookies and candy can lead to weight problems.

Two main strategies served to counteract people's tendency to overeat when in the presence of overweight individuals: thinking about health goals and being reminded of the link between eating and becoming overweight.

Because weight problems can spread through social networks, the authors have advice for people who are concerned about overindulging. "Thinking about personal health goals and reminding oneself of the undesirable effects of eating indulgent food at the time of possible consumption can help people avoid eating too much," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Childhood obesity survey finds creative solutions

More information: Margaret C. Campbell and Gina S. Mohr. "Seeing is Eating: How and When Activation of a Negative Stereotype Increases Stereotype-Conducive Behavior." Journal of Consumer Research: October 2011 (published online March 17, 2011)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Weight can affect health, life span

Jul 28, 2006

Overweight Americans usually are sick considerably more than their thinner contemporaries, look older and die younger, a new survey shows.

Recommended for you

Obese British man in court fight for surgery

Jul 11, 2011

A British man weighing 22 stone (139 kilograms, 306 pounds) launched a court appeal Monday against a decision to refuse him state-funded obesity surgery because he is not fat enough.

2008 crisis spurred rise in suicides in Europe

Jul 08, 2011

The financial crisis that began to hit Europe in mid-2008 reversed a steady, years-long fall in suicides among people of working age, according to a letter published on Friday by The Lancet.

New food labels dished up to keep Europe healthy

Jul 06, 2011

A groundbreaking deal on compulsory new food labels Wednesday is set to give Europeans clear information on the nutritional and energy content of products, as well as country of origin.

Overweight men have poorer sperm count

Jul 04, 2011

Overweight or obese men, like their female counterparts, have a lower chance of becoming a parent, according to a comparison of sperm quality presented at a European fertility meeting Monday.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Amazon Prime wins streaming deal with HBO

Amazon scored a deal Wednesday to distribute old shows from premium cable TV channel HBO to its monthly Prime subscribers, landing a blow on rival Netflix in the streaming video battle.