Shopping hungry equals more calories, not more food, study finds
By Jay Keller
A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that hungry grocery shoppers, in both online and in-store environments, buy more calories during their trip — but not a higher quantity of items.
Researchers in the Cornell-funded survey supported previous findings that link hunger and food choices, so they set out to see if shoppers who skip a meal tend to purchase more high-calorie, relative to low-calorie, foods.
The results showed that of the 11-13 items chosen by shoppers, the “hungry” group replaced similar low-calories items with high-calorie options.
Hungry shoppers who visited the grocery store late in the day, between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m., were more likely to buy fewer low-calorie food items than those shoppers who bought groceries after lunch, between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m.
Shoppers participated in a mixed bag of afternoon shopping sessions with online simulations conducted in a laboratory environment and in field tests held at a local grocery store.
Researchers also mixed up the time of day for each session by having the hungry and sated shoppers go grocery shopping just after lunch or right around dinner time.
In terms of food choices available to study participants, both high- and low-calorie options were divided into snacks, dairy, grocery and meat.
There was also no difference between low- and high-calorie food choices in each category since the total number of food items they selected was similar.
The authors of the study wanted to learn more about what they call “fattening fasting” and the impact of the phenomenon on intended and unintended circumstances.
“Fasting has been shown to increase brain reactivity to particular types of food over others,” say the authors of the study, Aner Tal and Brian Wansink. “Fasting participants showed increased activation in brain areas associated with reward … in response to high-calorie versus low-calorie foods.”
Unintended, short-term fasting, according to the authors, is similar to someone skipping a meal or not eating due for periods of at least two hours.
“Such fasts might be a rarity in daily life but short period of deprivation — such as skipping a meal — are fairly common,” Tal and Wansink say.
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