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Slim by Design: Kitchen Counter Correlates of Obesity

Brian Wansink, Andrew Hanks, and Kirsikka Kaipainen (2015). Slim by Design: Kitchen Counter Correlates of ObesityHealth Education & Behaviordoi: 10.1177/1090198115610571

Previous research shows that more than half of household food budgets are spend on foods consumed at home. Moreover, the kitchen is one of the only eating environments that consumers are in control of. In this study, we aimed to obtain useful insights relating to the home eating environments of normal-weight verses obese individuals by examining their respective homes and kitchens. We specifically investigated how salience and convenience of kitchen countertop food items related to a person’s body mass index (BMI).

The first study consisted of a national sample of 481 adult women and 408 spouses with at least two children under the age of 18 living at home. The women self-reported their weights and heights and that of their spouses and recorded the foods in their homes using a validated household inventory scale. Women with a BMI of less than 18 were excluded from the analyses due to being underweight or misreporting their BMIs. In the second study, trained researchers obtained weights and heights on calibrated scales and inventoried kitchen counters. Data was collected for 210 different households in Syracuse, New York consisting of adult men and/or women and at least one child under the age of 18 living at home.

We found that lower BMI was associated with the presence of fruit on the counter in both studies. In the first study, packaged food was related to greater BMI among both sexes, whereas the presence of cookies was associated with higher BMI only among men. In addition, men who had a toaster on their counter had a higher BMI than those with no toaster. In the second study, normal-weight participants were less likely than obese participants to have regular soda visible in their kitchens. Cookies and other baked goods such as cakes and muffins were marginally less likely to be visible in normal-weight participants’ kitchens. Health professionals can use these findings to provide specific dietary counseling such as recommending for individuals to only have fruit bowls on their kitchen counters.