Unlearning bad habits

October 16, 2008 by Jenna Candelaria NMSU Round Up

The lessons we learned as children may be causing poor eating habits and obesity, according to research by NMSU Marketing Professor Collin Payne.

Working with Cornell University Researcher Brian Wansink, Payne’s findings were recently published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a monthly medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

Payne and Wansink’s research suggests children who are forced to finish all the food on their plates have later problems refusing relatively unhealthy food when making their own decisions.

“We tried to better understand why people eat what they do and in the amounts that they do,” Payne said. “Cleaning your plate may have been a good idea during World War II because of food rationing, but now it’s just a recipe for becoming obese.”

Payne and Wansink sent a questionnaire to 63 parents about eating habits at home. The children were then brought in for a “cereal pouring” activity in which the children were asked how much pre-sweetened cereal they wanted. Payne and Wansink found that children who come from “clean-your-plate” homes were more likely to ask for more.

“They aren’t being taught to develop self-control because they are being told how much to eat,” Payne said.

Kelsey Hays, 21, an education major, said she comes from a “clean-your-plate” home and that it has impacted her life.

“Even now, I sit there at the table until I finish all of my food,” Hays said. “I just feel bad about wasting food.”

Payne has also done research on plate sizes and how they correlate to portion sizes.

Payne said portion sizes at restaurants are more suitable for two or three people rather than one. But blame should not be placed on the food market, Payne said, because restaurants are only responding to demand.

“Because portion sizes have increased, what is normal to eat is probably two to three times more than what is recommended,” Payne added. “If you serve your self onto large plates, what will seem normal is when the plate is full.”

But Payne said there is a way parents can set up a healthy environment to avoid overeating.

“Get tall, skinny glasses and smaller plates instead of larger plates and short, wide glasses,” Payne said. “Let your environment help you.”

Payne also suggests developing healthy habits when eating at fast food places or restaurants, such as eating only half of the fries or leaving a portion of the hamburger in the wrapper when finished.

Payne attributes much of the overeating activity to the busy schedules of most people’s lives. People today are less likely to realize what they have eaten or how much, Payne said, and that it is a uniquely American problem.

“We asked people in the U.S. how they knew when to stop eating,” Payne said. “Their answer was, ‘when the TV show they are watching is over’ or ‘when their plate was empty.’ When we asked the same number of people in Paris how they knew when to stop eating, they said they stop when they feel full.”

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