Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Consumer Behavior

When you go to a restaurant, do you tend to overeat? Do you ever wonder why? Could our food environment be changed in ways that would help you make educated choices about what and how much to eat?

Led by a new wave of research blending nutrition science, psychology, and marketing studies, the scientific community has expanded its understanding of the environmental cues that affect eating behaviors. These are some of the most important and compelling findings of recent years:

  • Increasing portion sizes will cause both children and adults to eat more food.
  • Both children and adults pour and consume more juice when given a short, wide glass than when given a tall, narrow glass
  • Even when foods are not palatable, large packages and containers can lead to overeating. Moviegoers who were given stale, two-week-old popcorn ate 33.6% more when eating from a large container than a medium-size container.
  • The farther you have to walk for food, the less you eat. College secretaries ate half as many chocolate kisses when the candies were placed 6 feet away from their desks, as opposed to within arm’s reach.
  • Descriptive menu labels increase food sales and change customers’ attitudes toward both the food and the restaurant. For example, when a restaurant described a dessert as “Black Forest Double-Chocolate Cake” rather than just “chocolate cake,”sales increased 27 percent. Customers reported improved attitudes toward the food and the restaurant, and they said they were more likely to return.

Some of the Rudd Center’s research is exploring the food environment and consumer behavior to better inform industry and government efforts to reduce obesity. In addition to studying variety in packaged foods, we are evaluating the scientific support for regulations requiring information about calorie and fat content at the point of purchase in fast food restaurants.