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Bad Popcorn In Big Buckets: Portion Size Can Influence Intake As Much As Taste

Wansink, Brian and Junyong Kim (2005). Bad Popcorn in Big Buckets: Portion Size Can Influence Intake as Much as Taste. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37:5, 242–5. doi:10.1016/S1499-4046(06)60278-9.

Do people only overeat the foods they like? We investigated whether environmental cues such as packaging and container size are so powerful that they can increase our intake of foods that are less palatable. We recruited moviegoers who had independently elected to see one of four showings (two consecutive shows on two consecutive evenings) of the re–release of the film "Stargate" at a theatre in a northern Philadelphia suburb. Upon purchasing their ticket, 158 adult moviegoers consented to answering a few questions related to the "theatre and its concessions" following the movie. These moviegoers were randomly given a medium (120 grams) or a large (240 grams) container of free popcorn that was either fresh or stale (14 days old). Following the movie, consumption measures were taken along with measures of perceived taste. We found that moviegoers who were given fresh popcorn ate 45.3% more popcorn when it was given to them in large containers. This container–size influence is so powerful that when the popcorn was disliked (in the case of the stale, 14 day old popcorn), people still ate 33.6% more popcorn when eating from a large container than a medium–size container. From these data, we conclude that even when foods are not palatable, these results caution that large packages and containers can lead to overeating. However, these data have positive implications for nutrition educators, since using larger bowls may increase consumption of healthy, but less favorable foods, such as vegetables.

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