Melbourne : Billboards or commercials that point out healthy food options can pull people out of their obsession with junk food, according to a new study which could lead to new ways to counter obesity and related diseases.
Researchers from the University of Sydney used lab rats to conduct a series of experiments replete with oreos, pringles, jelly snakes and chow.
They showed that environments where tasty high-fat and high-sugar treats were routinely consumed induced habitual control: animals lost the ability to make volitional nutritional choices based on the current value of food.
However, the study also showed that rats could easily be brought out of this state. For people, habitual behaviour means that eating patterns are not necessarily dictated by weight regulation and health concerns, but also by external food cues that shape and perpetuate certain eating habits: a world where McDonalds billboards loom large at every corner, luring you in with the promise of cheap, high-fat and high-sugar food.
The researchers suggest using simple interventions, such as reminders of how unhealthy certain foods are or interrupting the automatic processing of junk-food cues.
A number of smartphone apps have already been developed to stymie the consumption of unhealthy food. Equally, simply putting up signs that point out healthy food options in a food court can be an effective way of bringing us into a volitional state of mind.
As a corrective to obesity and metabolic disease, humans can come up with their own preventive cues, which may jolt them out of habit and into health. A first experiment backed this idea up by looking at volitional versus habitual control in rats.
Then, once they were full, they were once again placed in junk food and bland chow environments in order to see whether these distinct contexts would affect their food-seeking behaviour. – PTI
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