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NewsBites May 2013 Issue

Austerity Cues Calorie Cramming

“Comfort food” may translate into high-calorie food when people perceive that times are tough, according to a new University of Miami study. Researchers invited consumers to what they were told was a taste test of chocolate candies; half the subjects were informed the candies were a new low-calorie formulation, while the rest thought they were tasting a high-calorie treat. The “taste testers” were then shown posters displaying either neutral messages or slogans conveying hardship, austerity and adversity. When exposed to signs of life’s hardships, subjects ate nearly 40% more than when viewing neutral messages. On the other hand, when primed for adversity and then told the candy was low-cal, participants ate 25% less of it. Writing in the journal Psychological Science, researchers concluded, “It is clear from the studies that taste was not what caused the reaction; it was a longing for calories.” The findings could have implications for campaigns promoting healthy eating, they added. “And, certainly, beware of savvy food marketers bearing bad news.”

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