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Snacking encourages over-eating

Researchers at the University of Surrey have examined the impact of labelling food products as ‘snacks’ or ‘meals’ on subsequent eating choices[7].

During this investigation, 80 participants were asked to eat a pot of pasta, which was either labelled as a ‘snack’ (eaten standing up from a plastic pot with a plastic fork) or a ‘meal’ (eaten seated at a table using a ceramic plate and metal fork). Once consumed, participants were invited to take part in an additional taste test of different foods (animal biscuits, hula hoops, M&M’s and mini cheddars).

Researchers found that those who had eaten pasta labelled as a ‘snack’ ate more at the taste test than those who had eaten the pasta labelled as a ‘meal.’ Those who ate the ‘snack’ standing up consumed more (50% more total mass, sweet mass and total calories and 100% more M&M’s) than those who had eaten the pasta sitting down at a table.

The results demonstrate that when a food is labelled as a snack, rather than a meal, consumption is higher, particularly when standing rather than sitting. Researchers have attributed this to a combination of factors and believe that when eating a snack, we are more easily distracted and may not be conscious of consumption. They also argue that memories for snacks and meals may be encoded differently in our subconscious and that we are unable to recall what we have eaten as a ‘snack.’

With obesity a growing problem in the UK, describing food as a meal and eating it sitting down may help to make people more aware of what they are eating and reduce over-eating.



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