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Changing the Way We Eat: A Research on the Changes in our Eating Habit Romell Ian B. De La Cruz Ateneo De Manila University


This paper looks at three areas of eating that have changed throughout the years. It also looks at how these three have affected the waistlines of the general population. The first area is portion sizes. Portion size is how much is being served. And in different instances, it has been shown that portion size has increased, as evidenced by a change in dinner plate size, among others. The second factor is food packaging. Here, it is said that subtle details can affect what we consume and how much we consume of that certain food item. The third, and definitely not the least, is the atmospherics, or the so-called ambience of a certain eating place. It is said that our immediate surrounding can affect how much we eat and how long we eat, depending on what the immediate eating surrounding is.

Nowadays, there is an ongoing thought of being happy with whatever size one may have. So, it is not a surprise to see brands dedicated to plus size men and women. The number of these so-called plus sized men and women are growing. One has only to look around to notice it for yourself. But this growth would not happen if there is no increase in demand. And, indeed, there is an increase in demand owing from the growing obesity numbers. According to an article in the World Health Organization (WHO) website, the number of people with obesity has grown. It has increased by almost two-folds in between 1980 2008. In the 1980s, only 5% of men and 8& of women had obesity, worldwide. By 2008, 10% of men and 14% of women are obese. This is not a statistic that is focused on the United States and a few other key cities. This is a statistic that has a worldwide scope. In the Philippines alone, there is has been an increase in the mean, or average, body mass index (BMI), from 21.2 in 1980 to 22.9 in 2008. The Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a measure of measure relating a persons height and weight. It may be said that the increase in number is not too alarming but that number is only an average. In 2008, 6.4% of all Filipinos are obese and 26.9% are overweight. That is 33.3% of the population that are categorized as overweight/obese. But what is obesity? Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health (WHO, 2014). It affects the way we live our lives. It may inhibit us from the things we want to do. Thus, it is an imperative that we look after our weight. Aside from being a big disruption to the way we live, it is also an expensive disease to take care of. According to the US National Institute of Health (2014), US$75-$125 billion is spent on indirect and direct costs due to obesity-related diseases. Author Eric Schlosser says in one of his books that the amount of healthcare spending in the United States on obesity-

related illnesses reach US$240 billion. Those amounts account for the 25.5% of Americans who are obese and, possibly, the 69.4% who are overweight. Yet, the increase of the average waistline is not by coincidence. Clothes are not the only things you see being upsized. Fastfood chains offer food items that definitely go over the recommended serving sizes and are full of unhealthy calories. Food companies have started selling large bags of food items that are also many times over the prescribed amount. Now, these supersizing are not the only factors that affect our waistlines and the way we eat. Besides the increases in portion sizes, packaging, and the eating atmosphere also play a part in changing the way we eat and, in turn, our waistlines. The first factor which affects weight gain of the general population is the increase in portion size of food that is served in restaurants and in packets. First, I would like to differentiate the concepts of serving size and portion size. The difference is essential in understanding how portion sizes, and not the serving sizes, are to blame for the overeating of people, which leads to weight gain. According to a paper released by the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006, p.2), a serving size is a standardized unit of measuring foodsused in dietary guidance. Meanwhile, a [portion] size is the amount of a single food item served in a single eating occasion. With this in mind, the amount of food we eat can be affected by the portion sizes of the food being served. This means that a larger bag of potato chips or a larger dinner plate might cause an increase in the amount of food consumed. This is evidenced by a research done by Van Ittersum & Wansink (2012, p.4) wherein they investigated the effects of the Delboeuf Illusion on food consumption. What they did is to give subjects two bowls, one of

which is larger than the other. They were trying to see how much the size of the bowl affected the perception of the subject on the serving dish and the subsequent reaction to putting food on their own bowls. The Delboeuf Illusion is a phenomenon introduced by a Belgian by the name of Franz Joseph Delboeuf in 1865 which says that 2 identical circles are perceived differently when surrounded by a much larger circle and the other one was surrounded by only a slightly larger circle. With regard to this concept, Van Ittersum and Wansink found that people eat more when given bigger plates and less when using smaller ones. This would mean that, as consumers, we would want to avoid purchasing food items in large bags or plates. This is easier said than done. In a set of presentation slides released by the United States National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in 2002, which is available on their website, almost all of the food items they measured exceeded the standards set by the FDA and the USDA by up to 700%. In addition to this, common fastfood items are 2-5 times larger in comparison to 50 years ago, with regards to the portion sizes. The changes in the portion size are not only evident in food items available commercially but also in the sizes of the dinner plates. In the 1700s, a dinner plate was less than 9 inches in diameter. By the early 1900s, it grew to 10 inches. Since then, buffet plates, which measure 12 inches in diameter, are being used in exchange for dinner plates (Smith, 2013). With the increase in portion sizes served in restaurants, the increase in the sizes of dinner plates, and the subsequent increase of the amount of food consumed due to the increase in plate size, calorie intake would grow. This would not necessarily mean an

increase in weight, as mentioned by the research review paper released by the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. What it mentions, though, is that there are short-term studies showing that controlling portion sizes helps limit calorie intake (p.1). It is also stated there that the amount of calories consumed can only be considered as fattening when the amount of calories consumed is greater than that which is consumed. But, given the conclusions reached by Van Ittersum and Wansink, in their research, we find that, indeed, there is an increase in consumption and that it would lead to weight gain. Another factor in how much food we have consumed is the packaging and the surrounding environment in which we are eating. On top of the idea that bags of food items have grown larger, we have been manipulated by advertisers and marketers in their plans to keep us hungry and have us eat. There are many ways of manipulating, or tricking the human mind, into doing things or influencing the decisions it makes. One way of doing so is tricking the eyes and sight, one of the major senses that we use to observe the world we live in. This can be achieved through the use of colors. This is called Color Psychology. Color Psychology has been around for quite some time and its findings on the connection between color and emotions have been instrumental in the advertising industry (McArdle, 2013). It is this idea that the research would like to put forward in the further investigation of how packaging affects food consumption. With a simple observation of most fastfood chains, one thing remains the same. They all use the color red. This would be counterintuitive for institutions who want to create a brand name and separate itself from the competition through branding. So, why then would these fastfood chains want to use the same color repeatedly?

It has been shown that the red shows excitement and passion. Aside from this, red is also used to show that people should act immediately (Morris, 2013). These ideas would then be transferred to the food people are eating. They would, subconsciously, be imbibed with the idea that the food is exciting and very good. They would also be hinted that they must act immediately on their whims with regard to food, specifically the food items being sold in whatever red-themed fastfood chain there is. These includes most, if not all, fastfood chains. McDonalds, KFC and Jollibee are a few examples of this. As mentioned by guidance counselor Abet Go, in a personal correspondence, if many fastfood chains are doing it, then the marketers must be doing something in the right direction (personal communication, Febrauary 21, 2014). Aside from the color red, yellow is another dominant color used by the fastfood industry. According to Morris (2013), yellow is tied to happiness, excitement and fun. On top of that, it easily catches the eye of people, causing them to notice the sign and whatever the sign represents. In the case of fastfood restaurants, they would be easily noticed by hungry consumers, which might make them more susceptible to eating in the restaurant. A colors hue is not the only one which affects our consumption of food. Color contrast also plays a part in food consumption. In the same research done by Van Ittersum and Wansink (2013) on the Delboeuf Illusion, they also investigated the effects of color contrast on the amount of food which is consumed. They have found that the more intense the contrast between the serving dish and the food the more food one is prone to eating. Meanwhile, the reverse, meaning less contrast, lessens the consumption.

With the use of colors, we see that visual cues, used by marketers and entrepreneurs in luring potential customers, are affecting the way we eat. Advertisers use highly stylized versions of the food they advertise. These are cues that tell us that, somehow, the food item looks nice and must also taste nice. We are, then, getting convinced to purchase the certain food item and eat it. Another one is the whole set-up of a supermarket. According to author Charles Duhhig (2012), most supermarkets are arranged so that you would buy more junkfood because you have already bought fruits, which were at the front of the stores. Yet, the effects of visual cues go beyond making one eat more. If used in the right way, visual cues, which could be included in food packaging, can be used to help people control their eating and be more mindful of the amount of food they have consumed. But the lack of it is helping to facilitate the growth of the obesity epidemic. To support my claim on visual cues, a research by Geier, Wansink and Rozin (2012) tested how dividers in a can of potato chips would help people approximate better their consumption. They put red potato chips every after one serving. What they found was that because of the dividers, people were more conscious of how much they were eating. This would entail a more mindful way of eating, albeit subconsciously. Another packaging idea that might be contributing to the obesity epidemic is the wholesale, bulk buying of food products. A paper by Wansink (2004) mentions how the large stocks of food makes the food more appealing to eat, through the sheer volume that people see. Wansink points out a study by Terry & Beck which investigated the link between the visibility of stockpiled food and obesity (p. 468). What they did was to compare the habits of homes with obese and non-obese families. They found that, in general, newly stocked food items are more prone to be eaten.

Nowadays, most food items are sold in big packs. These packs are good for more than one serving. Meaning, they can be used to restock the pantry, so to speak. Yet, people consume them within one sitting. It is not only the stockpiling that makes people eat more, but also its visibility. Making food more visible can stimulate unplanned consumption (Wansink, 2004). This event happens because of the visible food serves a constant reminder to eat it. Having stockpiled food in ones home may be a way for us to go and eat, meanwhile, restaurants are trying hard to make their restaurants more appealing, consciously and subconsciously, to eat and stay at. Wansink (2004) mentions four drivers in the eating environment: (a) eating atmospherics, (b) eating effort, (c) eating with others, and (d) eating distractions. For the purpose of this discussion, I would like to differentiate all four and how they affect how we eat, which, in turn, affects our weight. Atmospherics refer to ambient characteristicssuch as temperature, lighting odor and noisethat influence the immediate eating environment. (Wansink, 2004, p. 465) These factors combine to form the environment which is suitable for a comfortable, yet prolonged, stay at the restaurant. This would make one eat more since one feels comfortable inside the restaurant. After atmospherics, there is the eating effort. This is related to the ease, access, or convenience with which a food can be consumed. This is one of the strongest influences on consumption (Wansink, 2004). Several studies have been conducted and have shown that several opportunities for easier access to certain food items, like ice cream and milk, made people eat it more.


But eating more can also be attributed to eating with another person. Wansink (2004) goes to say that the presence of other people influences not only what is eaten, but it can also increase how much is eaten (p. 461). Friendly and familiar people make one eat more since one is relaxed. While eating with other people, especially friends and family, makes people eat more because they are comfortable, eating with distractions create script-related patterns that are uncorrelated with hunger (Wansink, 2004, p.463). These script-related patterns are patterns, or rhythms, that are brought about by certain distractions. Take eating popcorn while watching a movie, for example. One would tend to get more and eat quicker when the movie gets more fast-paced. The distractions create, as the name says, distractions which make one forget about the amount of food one is taking. Not minding what we are taking would lead to eating more, which would lead to weight gain and, most probably, weight gain. Another packaging-related factor is that variety, or its perception, increases food consumption. Khan and Wansink have shown that simply increasing the perceived variety of an assortment can increase consumption (Wansink, 2004, p. 466). Why would food companies invest so much in creating the perfect environment and the perfect packaging for their products? They want profit. This profit is the driving force to the next thing that affects our eating habits: marketing. Chandon & Wansink (2012) have shown that accessibility, along with saliency and convenience are what marketers focus on. In doing so, overeating becomes easier to do due to the fact that eating is a highly habitual behavior that can be affected by the environment. Different factors in marketing have led to a manipulation of consumers by marketers. Changes in price can affect what people buy. Lowering prices for a long time leads


consumers to buy more, thus, consume more. A short-term price change increases the consumption of that food. This continues weeks until after the sale. The entirety of this paper has focused on the different aspects of the eating habit and how it has changed through the years. First, there are the changes in the in dinner plates which implies a more voracious style of eating. Secondly, there are the different packaging ideas that contribute to one consuming more than the recommended amounts. Last, but definitely not the least, there are the numerous ways that marketers try to woo us into consuming their food product, may it me in a to-go package or inside a restaurant. These factors have, directly or indirectly, affected the way everyone eats. This creates the growing epidemic of obesity, which we must be aware of. Obesity is a major problem in modern society. Knowing these factors, we are now able to discern what we need to be mindful of to take care of ourselves.


Chandon, P. & Wansink, B. (2012). Does food marketing need to make us fat? a review and solutions. Nutrition Reviews. [Journal Article] Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.(2006). Research to Practice Series No. 2: Portion Size. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Article with no author] Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House Geier, A., Rozin, P. & Wansink, B. (2012). Red potato chips: segmentation cues can substantially decrease food intake. Health Psychology, 31(3). [Journal Article] McArdle, S. (2002). Psychology of Color in Logo Design. Retrieved from http://thelogocompany.net/blog/infographics/psychology-color-logo-design/. [website] Morris, A. (2013, May 21). Marketing Tips: The Psychology of Color Manpulation for Advertising. Retrieved from http://voices.yahoo.com/marketing-tips-psychologycolor-manipulation-12142220.html. [online] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2002). Portion Distorion [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan/portion/index.htm. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2002). Portion Distorion II Interactive Quiz [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan/portion/index.htm.


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