HOW much does it cost to make people healthier? Not much‚ says US specialist Dr Brian Wansink. All it requires is small‚ cheap changes to visual cues in the environment that make them eat too much and choose the wrong foods.
Dr Wansink‚ professor of consumer behaviour at Cornell University and a global thought leader in the psychology of food and its consumption‚ was a speaker at the two-day Discovery Vitality Summit in Johannesburg last week.
One of the buzzwords in weight loss globally is "mindful eating"‚ said Dr Wansink‚ author of the bestselling book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
Mindful eating is hard work – and a luxury few people can afford‚ he said. "Most of us have jobs‚ to-do lists‚ phones ringing‚ kids to go home to. There's no way you have time to taste the peas mindfully."
The key is to "eat healthier mindlessly"‚ he said. That way‚ people will "eat less mindlessly‚ without worrying about it". That's because the best diet is "the one you don't know you're on".
His research has shown mindless‚ healthy eating is easy to achieve and does not require education‚ because "you eat with your eyes".
Children and teens "are naturally mindless eaters"‚ he said. Along with adults‚ they can be "easily tricked into eating better" with a combination of the principles of mindless eating and simple transforming solutions.
These involve changing visual clues in the environment that lead people to eat not just too much‚ but also too much of the wrong foods.
A crucial visual cue is the size of bowls and plates. Using smaller crockery reduces portion size.
It has been suggested that something this "basic" would not influence intelligent informed people‚ Dr Wansink says. However‚ research shows that even the most well-educated person tends to eat more from a bigger plate or bowl.
Another cue lies in "stockpiling and salience" – how the layout of food in cupboards and fridges influences food choices and consumption for good or bad.
"You are three times more likely to eat the very first thing you see when you open your cupboard or fridge than the fifth thing you see‚" Dr Wansink said.
Similarly‚ if food is at eye level‚ people are more likely to eat it.
Rearranging food in the fridge or the cupboard‚ putting healthier items in front‚ makes people eat better‚ he said.
These and other small‚ cheap changes have ripple effects across population groups – and affect healthcare costs.
"Small results without big effort" is the way to go‚ he said‚ because it gives the "power of encouragement that a positive change can have". – BDlive