Giving children more snack choices may sound like a helpful idea, but one recently published study found that children tend to overeat if they are presented with a wide variety of snacks. The study was published in the International Journal of Obesity on Thursday, July 18. It looked at the habits of 1,800 Australian children between 11 and 12 years old.
"There has been a popular push by nutritionists and public health officials towards replacing large dishware with smaller versions to nudge people towards healthier decisions," Jessica Kerr, a researcher at Murdoch Children's Research Institute and study author, said in a press release, reports UPI. "But we have found dishware size has very little effect on the amount of food consumed."
Researchers presented the children and their parent's snack boxes with crackers, cheese, a granola bar, biscuits, pieces of peaches and chocolate. The box size and number of snacks varied by child, and they were separated from their parents while they ate. The researchers also added up the number of grams and calories children and their parents ate, along with their exercise and sleeping habits.
According to the study, the researchers found that if children were given a greater number and variety of snacks, they ate more. Changing the size of the snack boxes had very little impact on what the children ate.
"In children, reducing the number and variety of snack food items available may be a more fruitful intervention than focusing on container or dishware size," the study's conclusion reads. "Effects observed among adults were small, although we could not exclude social desirability bias in adults aware of observation."
"Our research indicates that more attention and resources should be directed to toward offering children smaller amounts of food and, specifically, fewer and less variety of energy-dense foods and pre-packaged items," Kerr explained. "Interventions should not solely invest in reducing dishware size in the expectation that this will lead to reduced intake of snack foods."
Past studies have looked at how the way food is displayed impacts eating habits. In January, a Duke study published in Psychological Science found that what food people pick depends on what is next to it. If something pizza is next to broccoli, people will almost always pick pizza. But if Oreos are next to salmon, half the study participants went with fish.
"If you see one healthy food and one unhealthy food, most people will choose the indulgent food," Duke psychology professor Scott Huettel, the author of the study, said in a statement. "But if you add more unhealthy foods, it seems, suddenly the healthy food stands out."
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