Obesity policies forget to consider food feelings, say researchers

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Consumer educational programs should reconsider their current emphasis on communicating factual information such as nutrition labels, say researchers
Consumer educational programs should reconsider their current emphasis on communicating factual information such as nutrition labels, say researchers

Related tags Nutrition

A greater focus on emotional training may be a more effective way of encouraging healthy food choices than nutritional training, according to research.

The study, published in the Journal of Marketing Research​, looked at methods of helping consumers be more ‘mindful’ of their food choices.

Researchers from the Ohio State University, Florida International University and the University of Kentucky conducted four different studies to demonstrate that emotional ability was trainable and that food choices could be enhanced.

The fourth test saw that ‘emotionally trained’ individuals lost more weight over a three-month period compared to a control group and a nutritionally trained group, a time frame the researchers said suggested this method had staying power. This group ate fewer calories on average and selected healthier foods.

The first three tests established that emotional ability was trainable, food choices could be enhanced, emotional ability training improved food choices beyond a nutrition knowledge training programme and emotional ability training increased goal-relevant emotional thoughts and reduced reliance on the “unhealthy = tasty intuition”.

“We believe that training emotional ability is more effective than other interventions because it is a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle. Emotional ability training focuses on changing the way people think about and use their emotions in general. This is powerful because it allows individuals to begin making a series of smarter, better informed and healthier choices,”​ the researchers wrote.

“With a better understanding of how they feel and how to use emotions to make better decisions, people will not only eat better, they will also likely be happier and healthier because they relate better to others and are more concerned with their overall well-being.”

How do you feel about that?

food choice woman

The first study involved 170 undergrads with low emotional ability scores based on a pre-screening survey, identified as those most at risk of making poor food choices. The second involved 74 students, the third 70 and the fourth and final 106, all with low emotional ability scores.

The training procedure used small group discussions of six to ten participants per session, with the participants randomly assigned to emotional or control groups. The training was designed to be general, applying broadly to various consumer situations, not just food choice. Examples focused on financial decisions, product selection, and interactions with salespeople and other consumers.

It focused on four emotional abilities - perceiving, facilitating, understanding and managing emotion.

“Our training program suggests that consumer educational programs should reconsider their current emphasis on communicating factual information, such as nutrition labels, to instead stimulate experience-based learning that incorporates emotional ability," ​they said. 

“Our emotional ability training provides such a program, offering a means for consumers to gain control over their unhealthy eating habits by processing less heuristically and becoming more mindful of their emotions and food choices.”

Source: Journal of Marketing Research

Published online ahead of print, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.13.0188

“Emotional Ability Training and Mindful Eating”

Authors: B. Kidwell, J. Hasford and D. M. Hardesty

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1 comment

Emotional food choices

Posted by Juidith J Wurtman Ph.D,

The relationship between food choices and eating is more complex that the article suggests. We discovered more than 25 years ago why people 'self-medicate' with food . Certain foods increase serotonin and have a measurable positive impact on emotional state. If the foods which increase serotonin are low in fat and portion controlled, no weight gain occurs and weight loss is enhanced. Obesity policies must recognize this if they expect to see any lasting impact on their interventions.

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