Skip to main content

Eating Behavior and Obesity at Chinese Buffets

Wansink, B., & Payne, C.R. (2008). Eating behavior and obesity at Chinese buffets. Obesity, 16(8), 1957-1960.

Chinese Buffet
Decisions, decisions. In a Cornell University study, normal weight customers were over 2 times more likely than obese customers to browse the buffet before serving themselves.

We've all heard the adage, "You are what you eat", but what about how you eat? A study by Cornell University found that normal weight individuals behave differently from obese individuals when they eat at Chinese buffets. Here's the scoop!

What Happened? Trained observers fanned out to 11 all–you–can–eat Chinese buffet restaurants across the country and examined the behaviors of 213 randomly selected customers. The observers estimated the BMI (Body Mass Index) of these customers and divided them into 3 groups based on their estimated BMI; the 3 groups generally represented people that were normal weight (these were the customers with the lowest BMI's), overweight (customers with BMI's in the middle range), and obese (customers with the highest BMI's).

Click to see a larger version.

Here's what they saw:

First: the customer looks for a place to sit. Obese customers were more likely to sit at tables instead of booths. They were also more likely to sit facing the buffet–41.7% of obese customers compared to 26.8% of normal weight customers faced the buffet while they ate.

Second: the customer approaches the food. While 71% of normal weight customers would browse the buffet before making their selections, the majority of obese customers would serve themselves immediately; only 33.3% of obese customers took the time to browse beforehand. 98.6% of obese customers and 86.3% of normal weight customers opted for big plates over smaller ones.

Game time: the customer begins to eat. Normal weight customers were nearly 3 times more likely to use chopsticks than obese customers. They were also more than 2 times more likely to put a napkin on their lap. Upon finishing their meal, 10.6% of normal weight customers had unfinished food on their plates while only 6% of obese customers had leftovers.

Article Summary by Jessica Seah
Full text paper: (available as a pdf by clicking here)

Tips for Slim Eating:

Adjusting how you eat may help you obtain a healthier body weight. Try these tips to prevent yourself from overeating!

Brian Wansink, PhD
Food and Brand Lab, Director
110 Warren Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853