Food Packaging Influences How Much We Eat

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Research shows package size and how food is wrapped can affect how much people eat.

The way companies package food is very influential in how much we eat in one sitting, The Wall Street Journal says.

They try to capitalize on our urge to snack throughout the day without thinking about it. For instance, Hershey has done away with individual wrappers for some of its bite-sized candies, like Reese’s. They’ve rolled out Reese’s Minis, which come unwrapped in a resealable bag. Without the barrier of a wrapper, a Hershey senior vice president says, it promotes a snack-on-the-go behavior.

The company has done the same with Rolos, Twizzlers and Jolly Ranchers. Kit Kats are next, and will appear in this format next month. Sales data show the unwrapped versions have gained popularity faster than the previously wrapped minis.

Research has shown that people don’t have a good sense of when to stop eating. It describes a behavior called “unit bias,” where people are inclined to believe the size of a package indicates a reasonable portion. So when one researcher gave participants a big bucket of two-week-old popcorn, they ate a third more of it than they did from a medium bucket, even though they said it was stale and terrible.

Researchers also say some people discount the calories in bite-sized versions, feeling they can cheat with a nibble here or there. But those nibbles can add up to more than a regular-sized portion quickly.

Wrappers may seem like a subtle cue, but we respond to subtlety. In another study, researchers gave college students a canister of Lay’s Stax potato chips to eat while they watched TV. Some got a special version that included a discolored (red) chip at regular intervals, and those students ate less than half as much as the others. They were also able to guess more accurately how much they had eaten.

Stacy Johnson

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