Health

That Dangerous Cookie Jar

How visible edibles in your kitchen influence your weight

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Now there’s a connection between the food on your countertop and your body mass index, or BMI, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Health Education & Behavior, “Slim by Design: Kitchen Counter Correlates of Obesity.”

In the first part of the study, researchers polled 500 households, asking them to identify the food items in their kitchen and to provide their weight and height. They found: 

  • Fruit was more likely to be on the countertops of women of normal weight.
  • Candy, soft drinks, cereal, and dried fruit were more prevalent in obese women.
  • Cookies — and a toaster — on the countertop were a greater temptation to men struggling with their weight.

Related: Food Labels Made Simple

In the second part of the study, researchers photographed the kitchens of 210 households and asked the inhabitants to provide their weight and height.

  • Fresh fruit, and the absence of soft drinks and baked goods, were more prevalent in the households of women of normal weight.
  • Fresh fruit or soft drinks on the countertop did not make a difference to men.
  • Cookies and other baked goods were more tempting to men.

“Most people try to diet or eat better by using willpower,” the study’s author, Brian C. Wansick, told LifeZette. “They try to become slim by willpower. However, this study shows it’s a whole lot easier to simply become slim by design.”

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Wansick said it’s easier to eat more fruit and eat fewer cookies by simply replacing your cookie jar with a fruit bowl.

Related: Food Labels Made Simple 

The results are not surprising to Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian who is also the lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating.

“Weight management is a result of calories burned versus calories consumed,” she said. “However, there are many factors influencing the amount and type of calories we eat.”

She said environment and daily habits influence our food choices, and consequently, our ability to manage weight.

“Package size, plate shape, lighting, socializing, and variety are only a few of the environmental factors that can influence the consumption volume of food far more than most people realize,” Ficek said.

Related: Eat, Look, Love

The new research is significant because controlling the presence of visible, tempting foods is a small, painless change. In contrast, when people eat out, normally they’re not in control of elements that can contribute to making the wrong food choices. 

Even at home, many people, especially those with large families, tend to purchase larger quantities of food because of more convenience and less cost.

As Ficek noted, studies show people tend to eat more when they are in groups, and they tend to make bad food choices in the presence of others who are eating sugary, salty, high-calorie, and high-fat foods.

Related: Strings Attached

However, changing items on a kitchen countertop requires very little effort.

“If you keep a cookie jar on the counter at all times, you’re definitely going to have some problems,” said Sherry Clay, a wife and mother of two in Clay, Alabama.

Clay said while decorative containers on the kitchen countertop are pretty, it could spell trouble.

“I keep the bags of chips, cookies and other goodies in the pantry and believe that it helps me — and the rest of my family — to avoid overeating, since these products are not constantly in view.”

Related: Cooler Confusion 

Ficek said although such environmental factors appear unrelated, it’s important to recognize that they are.

“Environmental factors generally influence consumption volume by inhibiting consumption monitoring and by suggesting alternative consumption norms,” she said.

Wansick said tweaking your environment can help you eat less.

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