Friday, March 16, 2012

Brian Wansink: from mindless eating to mindlessly eating better

So tonight I went to my first legit keynote presentation. It makes me feel like somewhat adultlike (although if you'd ask my friends about that topic, they would disagree). But I figured I'd highlight some main points, because the presentation was extremely interesting. It was given by Brian Wansink with the title "from mindless eating to mindlessly eating better." I have to start off by saying that the only reason why I was going in the first place was because my nutrition teacher said she'd give us 10 extra credit points for attending, so I figured-heck yes I'll sit and listen to somebody else talk for 10 free points. It ended up being totally worth it because not only did I get extra credit, but the speaker was very funny and the topic was really interesting.

The first thing I found comical was the plethora of "introducers" (I call them that because I don't know the technical terminology of what their role was). There were 4 introducers to introduce the main speaker. Is it like that at all formal presentations? Do they often have introducers to introduce the introducer of the speaker?

Now we get to the topic itself. The gist of it is what our unconscious eating habits are, and how to improve them also unconsciously. Brian is a very well respected reacher and teacher at Cornell who has run many experiments over the years about eating habits. One of the most interesting points he made, in my opinion, was that there is statistical/research evidence to show that if you name something a more elaborate or interesting name, people are more likely to eat it. For instance they set up a research restaurant where they had a few food items on the menu that they labeled with bland names. Then a few weeks later they had the exact same food, but with more elaborate names. When this was done, the people who took part in the experiment actually gave a review of that food being of better quality and the chef having more years of experience even though it was actually the same food.

Another interesting point, although slightly predictable is that people will eat healthier if the healthy food is within reach/sight/ascetically nice. This was proved in high schools across the country when Brian went and just rearranged how the food was laid out in a school lunch line. He did this by putting sugary drinks towards the back and putting milk and H2O in the front, etc. My favorite part of the whole thing was that when schools put fruit in the front and in a pretty bowl (not a plastic one), fruit sales shot up +100%. The moral of that story was that people reach for what's most convenient and visible. If that's a cookie than they'll choose a cookie, if it's an apple than they'll pick the apple.

It was very informative and interesting, but I did have one complaint. At the end a girl asked if actively teaching students about healthy choices would be a better approach to getting kids to eat better instead of "tricking" them and their subconscious. He stated that a kid is gonna know what's healthier, but that's not gonna change their choice either way. I find this partially true and respect the girl's question. Here's my thoughts:

1. Yes, kids do know what's healthier and probably won't choose the healthy one cause it doesn't taste better. The thing that rings true especially with teenagers is that they're gonna do the opposite of what you say, no matter what it is. So continually telling them what's good and bad is kind of like beating a dead horse (I hate that saying, by the way)

2. I do believe that high schools should have nutrition classes so that they're aware of what exactly is in different foods/ what their health benefits are. That's always a good skill to know. But it should be taught as being informative as opposed to an oppressive right v. wrong.

3. I don't like the idea of solely relying on tricking people, but it seems to work as much as I hate to admit it.

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