Modern food choices are influenced by forces out of control. An average person makes over 200 food-related decisions each day – but environmental forces can cause us to overeat by taking advantage of biological, psychological, and social and economic vulnerabilities. And so following a healthy diet can be hard. From deciding when and what to eat to how much food you actually put on your plate, the average person makes decisions each day, most of which are automatic. These automatic choices dubbed mindless eating by some experts happen when we eat and drink without consciously considering what kind of or how much food to consume. We’ll keep eating from a bowl of chips past the point of fullness simply because they’re in front of us. Even the most disciplined consumers are not fully in control of what they eat. Studies have shown that decisions such as when, what and how much to eat are often shaped by subtle forces outside of our awareness or direct control. These environmental forces can cause us to overeat taking advantage of biological, psychological, and social and economic vulnerabilities. This helps explain why 2 billion people worldwide overweight or obese, and why no country has yet been able to reverse their obesity epidemic. There’s hope. Research shed light on the major forces that encourage overeating, including biological, psychological, social, and economic. Now that we know more about them, we are in a better position to intervene.
BIOLOGY INFLUENCES APPETITES
Why do humans tend to crave items like chocolate over salad? Taste preferences such as a “sweet tooth” are innate to human biology, and they can change over the course of our lives. Children, for example, have a stronger preference for sweet foods than adults do. Modern food environment introduced an influx of processed foods filled with sugar, fat, salt, flavor enhancers, food additives, caffeine and so on. These ingredients are manipulated to try to maximize our biological enjoyment and satisfy those innate taste preferences. For instance, research finding says a certain highly palatable food like chocolate milkshake trigger brain responses like people’s reactions to addictive substances, giving new meaning to idea of ‘sugar high’. But processed foods are frequently stripped of components such as water, fiber and protein that cause us to feel full, making it difficult for the body to regulate food intake and maintain weight.
THE BRAIN LOVES FOOD
In addition to biological enjoyment of highly processed foods, there’s a lot to love about them psychologically. From McDonald’s Happy Meals toys to Coca-Cola’s global “Open Happiness” special marketing campaign, examples abound of the link between food and pleasure. Companies spend billions of the dollars used in marketing foods to create image of strong, positive association with their products. One study found that children actually think same food tastes better adorned with a cartoon character like Dora the Explorer or Shrek. There are lots of small ways our environment can promote overeating. People eat more when served larger portions, regardless of how hungry they are. Unhealthy foods are very noticeable and desired because they are everywhere in schools, restaurants, convenience stores, or the supermarkets and vending machines. They’ve even infiltrated stores selling office supplies and home goods.
TOP SUPERFOODS LIVE TO 100
The places where we make many of our food decisions can be overwhelming for busy consumers with 40,000 different products in a typical supermarket), and most psychological cues in environment signal us to eat more not less. Examples are large portion sizes, food prices, the placement of food items in stores and promotional strategies to market foods affect dietary decisions on daily basis. Consider portion size alone: Drinking Coca-Cola in 1950s meant consuming a 6.5-ounce glass; today 7-Eleven Double Gulp is roughly 10 times that size and contains nearly 800 calories. But for food out of sight means out of mind. Google provides free snack foods for employees, and found that employees were eating too many M&Ms. So they placed the M&Ms in opaque containers and made healthier snacks more visible. Simply placing M&Ms out of sight from 2,000 employees in the New York office meant they consumed 3.1 million fewer calories in just seven weeks.
ENVIRONMENT INFLUENCE FOOD
Unhealthy foods are often inexpensive, making them especially appealing to those on a tight budget. But fast food and ready-to-eat convenience store items are also widely available and quicker and easier to prepare than home-cooked meals, which makes busy consumers vulnerable to overeating them. Food companies also engage in targeted efforts to market to certain groups. For example, recent reports have shown that soda companies are increasing their spending in the US on targeting black and Hispanic youth, a concerning strategy as these groups have greater rates of obesity. The good news is public discourse about obesity and policy-making is starting to reflect science. The public and policymakers are realizing that health issues like obesity and its related chronic diseases are not just about people’s individual food decisions. People are prone to over-consume unhealthy foods because our current food environments exploit biological, psychological, and social and economic vulnerabilities, undermining people’s ability, personal responsibility for their food choices. Because weight loss programs lead to limited weight loss difficult to maintain, bolder efforts are needed to prevent overweight and obesity in the first place. Fortunately, policy-level interventions introduced. In US, by Food and Drug Administration will require large chain restaurants to list calorie content on food menus in 2016 and it has proposed adding a Daily Value for Added Sugars on food labels to limit consumption.