Consumer Reports’ Food Advice Aligns with Behavior Analysis

Photo Credit: Chelsea Wilhite

By Chelsea Wilhite, M.A., BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

In the September issue of Consumer Reports On Health, the long-standing consumer organization gives advice on “How to Eat Healthier – No Willpower Required.” The article opens with a brief acknowledgement that people’s tendencies to choose unhealthy food over more nutritious options isn’t an internal problem (what they call “willpower”). Instead, Consumer Reports points to “changes in our environment” that can make it easier to eat better foods. They then list five tips for changing your environment in such a way as to encourage healthy eating. Those tips include:

“Customize Dishes and Cups” – By plating food on smaller dishes, bowls, and cups, you can influence portion size. Citing research by Cornell University professor Brian Wansink, Ph.D., they suggest using larger plates for vegetables and smaller plates for grains, meats, and sweets.

“Color-Code Your Meals” – Consumer Reports claims that including a variety of colorful foods on your plate can “improve nutrition and tempt your palate.” They suggest using the colors of foods as possible indicators of nutrition.  They add that bright vegetables such as tomatoes and chard can make a dish more appealing.

“Make Health Foods Visible” – This is the simple idea of making healthier foods more visible in the refrigerator, cupboards, and pantry. For example, if you store your vegetables in the bottom crisper drawer, you are unlikely to reach for them when opening the refrigerator for a snack. Storing healthy foods in clear containers and unhealthy ones in opaque containers helps, too.

“Make it Look Nice” – Consumer Reports references research from the Culinary Institute of America suggesting visual appeal influences subjective taste experience: the more visually appealing, the better the reported taste.

“Eat Only at the Table” – The article cited correlations between eating location and body mass index (BMI). People who ate at the table also had lower BMIs, and people who ate while watching television had higher BMIs. Moreover distracted eating is correlated with consuming more calories. 

The Consumer Reports article does not identify behavior analysis but it does place heavy emphasis on the environment as an influencing factor in behavior, specifically food-related decisions. You can find more of Dr. Wansink’s research on food behavior-environment relationships here, and let us know what you think in the comments below!  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Chelsea Wilhite, M.A., BCBA has always wanted to better understand the world around us. As a television journalist, Chelsea worked her way up the ranks to produce the number one rated television news broadcast in the Fresno television market, an area covering five California counties. Along the way, she won two regional news Emmys and a Radio and Television News Directors Award for best news producer. In an effort to further her understanding of natural phenomena, Chelsea left television after more than a decade, turning to Behavior Analysis. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Reno. While behavior science research and instruction is now her primary interest, Chelsea never lost her passion for journalism and regularly contributes to behavior science oriented blogs, magazines, and newsletters.

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