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American research investigates
how hunger affects how you shop

If you go hungry to the supermarket you’re more likely to buy high-calorie foods and leave healthier alternatives such as fruit and vegetables on the shelf. Scientists at Cornell University Ithaca, New York, came to this conclusion in a study involving 150 people.

How the research was planned and conducted

For the first part of the study, 68 of the participants agreed not to eat anything in the five hours before the experiment. Then half of them were asked to eat a carbohydrate-dense snack until they stopped feeling hungry. Next, the participants, hungry or satisfied went shopping in a simulated online shop. The shop’s range included both low-calorie (fruit, vegetables, chicken breasts) and high-calorie (sweets, salty snacks, red meat) foods. For each high-calorie product there was a healthier alternative. No prices were displayed.

The timing of the shopping makes a difference

In another part of the study, the researchers spent time in a supermarket investigating what 82 people bought at different times of the day, focussing on the ratio of low-calorie to high-calorie products. Earlier studies had shown that most people experience a sharper feeling of hunger in the late afternoon (between 4 and 7 pm) than at midday or in the early afternoon (from 1 to 4 pm).

What can you learn from this?

Both surveys came to the conclusion that even short periods without food can influence the purchasing decisions you make. Participants who were very hungry chose high-calorie products like fast-food and sweet snacks more frequently. The total number of items in the shopping trolley didn’t increase, however. In the late afternoon, the shopping basket was less balanced (between low- and high-calorie foods) than at midday. The assumption is that hunger causes the brain to react more strongly to foods with higher calorific value. So, if you want to help yourself make healthy shopping choices, it’s wise to have a small snack before you go shopping.


Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de