Live For Today, Gain More Weight
February 7, 2013

Tough Times Ahead Can Tip The Scale Towards Obesity

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

A new study from the University of Miami recently found that a tough economic climate can cause weight gain for individuals.

In particular, the researchers discovered that, during hard times, people are more likely to look towards high-calorie foods that will keep them feeling happy over a longer period of time. In addition, they found that, when paired with messages like “live for today,” individuals were more impulsive in their actions and consumed almost 40 percent more food than a group who wasn´t given a message that was more neutral in tone. On the other hand, when food was paired with a “tough times” message, people appeared to consume around 25 percent less of the food provided.

“The findings of this study come at a time when our country is slowly recovering from the onslaught of negative presidential campaign ads chalked with topics such as the weak economy, gun violence, war, deep political divides, just to name a few problem areas,” explained Juliano Laran, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, in a prepared statement. “Now that we know this sort of messaging causes people to seek out more calories out of a survival instinct, it would be wise for those looking to kick off a healthier new year to tune out news for a while.”

The outcomes of the study were recently featured in the February edition of Psychological Science, a journal affiliated with the Association of Psychological Science. In the paper, the researchers discussed how they conducted a few different studies. In the first study, they had studied subjects participating in a taste test of a type of M&M. While half of the group was given a bowl with a new candy that was said to contain a new secret ingredient, the other half of the participants were provided a bowl of M&Ms that was thought to contain low-calorie chocolate. All the individuals were allowed to sample the candy to complete a test evaluation form.

However, in reality, the M&Ms were no different at all as the investigators wanted to better understand the amount participants consumed in relation to seeing posters that had either neutral sentences or sentences describing adversity and struggle. They discovered that individuals who thought about adversity and struggle went for the fattier options and consumed almost 70 percent more of the “higher-calorie candy” as opposed to “the low-calorie” option. The scientists did not see any significant changes in terms of candy consumed following exposure to a poster that had neutral words.

“It is clear from the studies that taste was not what caused the reactions, it was a longing for calories,” concluded Laran, who completed the study with doctoral student Anthony Salerno, in the statement. “These findings could have positive implications for individuals in the health care field, government campaigns on nutrition, and companies promoting wellness. And, certainly beware of savvy food marketers bearing bad news.”

The findings of the study correlate with a 2011 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco that found that mindful eating and stress-reduction techniques can assist in preventing weight gain. The researchers stated that the female participants, who had the greatest reduction of stress, also had the biggest drop in belly fat.

“You´re training the mind to notice, but to not automatically react based on habitual patterns – to not reach for a candy bar in response to feeling anger, for example,” remarked Jennifer Daubenmier, a UCSF researcher with the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, in a prepared statement. “If you can first recognize what you are feeling before you act, you have a greater chance of making a wiser decision.”