How Children Associate Snack Foods with Satisfying Hunger
Childhood obesity is a major problem in the developed world. An abundance of cheap high-calorie goodies have left its impression in our youths' waistlines. A new study from psychologists at the University of Bristol in the UK analyzes why some children are more at risk at becoming overweight. They found that for those children who have grown familiar with snack foods like candy bars, soft drinks, cookies, and chips, learn to associate those foods with the feeling of fullness. Other, more wholesome foods, may then be associated with not being able to satisfy one's hunger.
According to Dr. Charlotte Hardman, co-author at Bristol's School of Experimental Psychology, "We know from previous work with adults that we have beliefs and expectations about how filling foods will be, and these expectations can change. Moreover, 'fullness expectations' are important determinants of meal-size selection, for example foods that are believed to be more filling are selected in smaller portions."
The researchers observed seventy children, age 11-12. They observed the frequency at which they ate snack foods and used a special compute to quantify the fullness that they expected from the snack foods. The key word here is expected. The fullness that they received from the snack foods was not a part of the study. It is the expectation that a certain food will make someone feel full that will drive that person to eating it.
They found that the familiarity that the children had with a given snack food helps to predict the expected fullness and will therefore determine the portion size consumed. Those familiar with a snack food would then choose a smaller portion size for a snack that is particularly high in calories.
For those children who were unfamiliar with a given snack food, the physical appearance of the food played a commanding role in selecting portion size. Those unfamiliar would then associate actual volume with their expectation of fullness, a strategy that would promote selection of larger portion sizes.
The lesson learned may be, of course, to keep children from having too much snack foods in the first place. However, if a parent decides to give their children snack foods, it is better to be consistent about it in order to familiarize the child. If the child knows right away that only a small portion will satisfy their hunger, they will only have that small portion.
This study has been published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Link to published article: http://www.ajcn.org/content/early/2011/09/14/ajcn.111.016873.full.pdf+html