Hungry Shoppers Buy More Junk Food, Study Shows

A new study by researchers at Cornell University showed something that many of us already know — shopping while hungry leads to more junk food purchases.

While the concept is certainly not new, Cornell’s dietary researchers discovered that the situation is actually much worse than we previously realized.

Along with out of control snacking in the grocery store parking lot — and sometimes in the checkout line, going shopping while hungry leads to an entire week’s worth of eating unhealthy.

Researchers at Cornell followed 68 shoppers as they made their way through an online grocery site, which offered both healthy and unhealthy choices. Shoppers who didn’t eat four to five hours before their virtual trip to the supermarket purchased the same number of items as those who snacked on crackers before making their decisions.

But the hungry shoppers chose more processed junk foods overall than those who had eaten. How much? About 23 percent. A follow up field test where shoppers were unknowingly followed by the researchers yielded the same results. Brian Wansink, one of the study’s lead investigators, explained:

“You don’t buy more, but you do buy more of the wrong type of calories. You buy things like cereal, snacks, chips, candy and other convenience foods that require no preparation and that you can eat right away.”

While previous studies showed that fasting for up to 18 hours can make shoppers choose less healthy items, the Cornell study was the first to show no one has to be terribly hungry for judgement at the grocery store to be affected. Also, the spur-of-the-moment, less nutritious purchases last for the rest of the week, as hungry shoppers tend to get ready-to-eat meals, or processed foods that require little preparation.

The researchers explained that their findings suggest “people should be more careful about their choices when food-deprived and possibly avoid choice situations when hungry by making choices while in less hungry states.” Translation? Have something to eat before you head to the grocery store next time.

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