Researchers Discover ‘Stop Signs’ Literally Stop Overeating

One of the larger problems in combating obesity in America comes from the difficulty many individuals who struggle with their weight have in visually measuring portion sizes.

And indeed, in the past two decades, portion size has become a big contributor to obesity rates. Chains like The Cheesecake Factory and Claim Jumper trade in sometimes comical portions of even “healthy” foods like salads, but even home-cooked meals and convenience food often outstrips what any human should reasonably consume in a single seating.

Still, we tend to consume as much as possible of what is placed in front of us, which presents a conundrum for public health officials attempting to educate the populace as to what represents a reasonable portion of food to eat in a single sitting. But researchers at Cornell have discovered one way that is surprisingly efficient at encouraging consumers to eat smaller portions- and it is almost literally a stop sign.

Humans are conditioned from an early age to interpret green as “go,” and red as “stop,” and applying that knowledge to food seems to do the trick quite effectively. A study published this month in the journal Health Psychology, details a study done at the university involving stackable chips (think Pringles), wherein every 7th chip was colored red. (Seven chips was considered a single serving.)

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Cornell’s writeup of the study explains:

“Unaware of why some of the chips were red, the students who were served those tubes of chips nonetheless consumed about 50 percent less than their peers: 20 and 24 chips on average for the seven-chip and 14-chip segmented tubes, respectively, compared with 45 chips in the control group; 14 and 16 chips for the five-chip and 10-chip segmented tubes, compared with 35 chips in the control group.”

Researchers explain that employing such clear visual hints may assist in getting consumers to “interrupt their semiautomated eating habits” and ultimately curb some types of overeating.