Small treats tempt you to overstack on calories


Washington : Beware of tempting treats being offered in small doses or you may end up stacking more calories than are good for your waistline.

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A new study has found that people actually consume more high-calorie snacks when they are tempted with small packs of goodies.

Authors Rita Coelho do Vale of the Technical University, Lisbon, Rik Pieters and Marcel Zeelenberg, both of Tilburg University, the Netherlands, found consumers tended to avoid large packages, restrained by fears of overeating, while small packages, perceived as innocent pleasures, were readily savoured.

“The increasing availability of single-serve and multi-packs may not serve consumers in the long-run, but – because they are considered to be innocent pleasures – may turn out to be sneaky small sins,” wrote the authors.

One fascinating aspect of the research is the difference between belief and reality. In an initial study, researchers found that consumers believe that small packages help them regulate “hedonistic consumption”, where self-restraint is at stake.

When participants were asked to choose phone billing plans, those who thought the plan was for social rather than work purposes tended to choose smaller plans.

The researchers then moved on to food. Participants in one group had their “dietary concerns” activated by completing a “body satisfaction scale”, a “drive for thinness scale” and a “concern for dieting scale”.

They were then weighed and measured, in front of a mirror, to fully activate their awareness. Then those participants (and a control group, which didn’t have its “dietary concerns” activated) watched episodes of “Friends” interspersed with commercials.

They believed they were there to evaluate the ads. But researchers were really monitoring their consumption of potato chips. Chips were available to participants in large packages or small ones.

The study found that consumption was lowest when dieting concerns were activated and package size was large. People were less likely to open large packages, and participants deliberated longer before consuming from the larger packages.

“Maybe the answer lies in consumers taking responsibility for their consumption and monitoring internal cues of sufficiency, rather than letting package size take control,” concluded the authors.

These findings are scheduled for publication in the October issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.