ANNOUNCER: This is a production of Cornell University.
GARRICK BLALOCK: Good afternoon. I'm Garrick Blalock. I'm an assistant professor in the department. And today, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the second of AEM's new C-- our current event seminar series. Today to introduce the guest speaker, I'd like to ask AEM Ambassador Antonia Singleton to come to the podium and get us started, please.
ANTONIA SINGLETON: Thank you. Good afternoon. I'd like to welcome you all to the second installment of the C Series. We hope you enjoyed the first. Today, we're in for a treat. We have Professor David Just, who'll be talking about behavioral economics and what we eat. Professor Just's areas of expertise include risk and uncertainty, information and behavioral economics.
His research interests center around the use of information, and more particularly, how differences of human capital and information availability affect our decisions today. In addition, Professor Just teaches AEM 4110-- Introduction to Econometrics, AEM 4140-- Behavioral Economics and Manager Decisions, AEM 6120-- Applied Econometrics, and AEM 7020-- Applied Micro Economics II. Without further ado, please help me welcome Professor David Just to the podium.
DAVID JUST: Thank you very much. And thanks for the opportunity, Garrick, to be able to present this. This is a somewhat different audience than I'm used to presenting this material in, so you're going to have to excuse me if I may pitch it a little bit high once in a while, so we are going to try and hold questions till the end. But if you catch me saying something that just doesn't make sense to you because I haven't defined the term, please raise your hand and stop me and force me to clarify. I want this to be something applicable and understandable.
So to begin with, just to kick this off-- as you're all aware, obesity has become a really big issue in the US, but not just the US. Here the rates of obesity have increased substantially over the last 20 years among, first, the poor and then among the more wealthy. And now it really does seem to be pervasive in all demographics, no matter how much you make, no matter what race you may belong to, or what gender you may be, there has been a substantial increase in obesity.
And we've seen the same increase in obesity in other countries. In some countries, what we may consider to be developing countries even, we're seeing the similar increase. So what's the reason behind this? There are a great number of researchers trying to look at this and find this silver bullet that tells us what is causing this increase in obesity. I'm not one of those. Rather, I want to see what sorts of things we can do on the margin to help improve.
Part of the problem with going for such a silver bullet approach is that you can't find a single thing, there have been a whole confluence of factors that really did this. Some of the work that's been pointed out that's interesting-- food has become less expensive over the period of time we're talking about. [? Tronowski ?] and [? Damen ?] is probably the most common reference talking about this. They show, in particular, that dollars spent per calorie has declined substantially, and they think this leads people to consume more. In particular, it makes them more price sensitive-- consume more calories and increase their girth-- their weight.
The little bit of a problem I have with this is that we really don't think prices are all that important in how much people buy. And if this really is the case, if this is really what's driving it, well, over the last year, due to ethanol policies and rising oil prices, and things like that, we've seen a huge increase in the price of corn and corn syrup, and things like that, due to the growth of India and China and their demand for grains, for feed for their cattle, things like that.
If that's really the problem, we may see the obesity problem just disappear in the next couple of years, and I have my doubts, so I'm continuing this research agenda despite that. Other reasons. There have been fewer reasons to be physically active. More people own cars, more people have access to video games, computers, entertainment that's right there on demand, so, potentially, people are spending less time doing physical activities. And there's been a long lot of research along those lines as well.
What I'm going to focus on is really this last point, is that the methods of marketing foods have really become a lot more sophisticated. Our research methodology, the types of innovative practices that marketers are trying are really getting to be different, substantially different. They have a better understanding of what they're doing, and, potentially, that has an impact on how much people are eating.
So to sort of frame this, I want to start by thinking about this as a standard economist would. Now, I suppose most of you have had your basic principles courses and you know that economists are very high on the idea of rationality. That people have full information, that they make good use of this information, and have these deliberative decisions that they make that maximize their own well-being.
Well, if people or maximizing their own well-being, what are the sort of limits that they face? Well, they have a certain amount of income, they can't really spend beyond that, at least, not anymore. We also have certain limits on our information, the understanding we have of the health implications of the food we're eating. And we have limits on our time that's available to prepare these foods.
And these are really important variables in the decisions to make food and what sorts of things to eat. But given this sort of model, what are the policy implications? Well, the policy implications are primarily that we can either alter the prices, we can alter the wealth of people, which is a difficult and politically not feasible, or we can change the amount of information people have.
Beyond that, the most we could do is actually to change the types of food that are available-- actually bar and ban different types of food, which is also politically unfeasible in most cases. Primarily, the approach we've seen is more information, more health information, giant information campaigns. And no matter how much they spend on it, from a government standpoint, it's a drop in the bucket compared to how much advertising dollars are coming out telling us about how great McDonald's foods are and how great the other foods that are out there are. It's just not going to stem the tide, it's not going to change things, right?
And I'm going to argue that this sort of thinking about food relies very heavily on what I'm going to call dubious rationality assumptions. First one I mentioned is free disposal. OK? Free disposal. This is the idea that I get to choose exactly how much I'm going to eat no matter how much food is sitting in front of me, I can throw away the rest, and it doesn't cost me anything. OK?
Now, a personal fact about me, I have four children. So I've spent 36 months of my life with a pregnant woman. And because you probably don't know this, pregnant women eat substantially more than most people, and they eat for longer periods of time than most people, at least more than they usually do.
So you're sitting down at dinner, and you finish what you would normally do, and your wife's still eating, and you're into the conversation. You can't just get up and walk away from her and go into a different room, that's a little bit obnoxious to do. And you're sitting there, and you keep talking. And after a little while, you notice there's that other roll sitting over on that plate, and it just sort of catches your eye, and you keep talking, and eventually, you have to eat that roll.
You just can't resist it that long. You cannot keep telling yourself, yeah, I'm already done because eventually, you ignore that-- what you're telling yourself-- you ignore that voice in your head and you pick it up and you start eating. You don't have free disposal. It costs you something to be able to keep up that barrier. OK?
Secondly, continuity. So the idea is that people have these continuous quantity decisions. But really, do we? If you sit down to what, take in the game on Saturday, and you take a bowl of chips with you, and you're sitting there watching. Each time you pick up a chip, are you sitting there thinking, OK, so what is the marginal cost of a chip?
How much is this chip really costing me and exactly what is it contributing to the amount of clogging in my arteries? Or do you just eat to the end of the bowl, and then when you're done with that bowl think, should I get another one? Right? That's a different type of decision rule, and it's one that we've sort of assumed out of most of economics.
So the argument for food psychology and economics-- there's this substantial evidence that controlling our diet really does take effort, OK? It requires a lot of expenditure of effort. And if we were really good economists, and we had the possibility to observe, we could document how much effort this was and quantify it and improve our models and put out these rational models, but we don't have that ability.
We can't really measure that effort very well. And because we can't do that, really all that's left is this idea of documenting through experimental psychology, the trade-offs people make based on those costs. And using those trade-offs trying to build models of what happens rather than talking about exactly why it happens.
Questions you have to ask yourself have are have obese individuals made the conscious effort to become so? OK. If it's a rational model, then anybody who gets to the point where they are obese should not regret the fact that they are, they should not regret the actions that they have made, and they shouldn't have to pay others to try and help enforce their own decisions. Right?
When we have a billion dollars, or several billion dollars, actually, diet industry, it tells us that there's something irrational going on, that this doesn't quite fit the rational model. And if it's not the rational model, if it's not this deliberative decision that people have sat down and said, you know, I like food so much that I would like to weigh 287 pounds, right? If it's not that type a deliberative decision, then how can policies that are designed to appeal to highly conscious thought-- things like changing the price, changing the health information-- how are those ever going to address the problem?
Because those only work for people who are thinking deliberatively, not people who are making gut instinct reactions or rules of thumb reactions, it's not going to address those individuals. So little background, we are in a what was formerly a pure Ag Econ department. And there's a long history ag economics of looking at how people's response to price affects how much they eat. And there's essentially a 50-year history of finding that it doesn't really change much at all.
And in other words, we have to change prices on foods very substantially to get people to change their diets in a really big way. There are several people who've looked at exactly that. They're starting to be some studies saying that's a little more nuanced, in particular, that some people are more responsive to changes in prices for, say, vegetables than they are foods that are high in fat or salt or sugar, which means what?
We can't put a fat tax on those particular foods and change much of what people eat. We might be able to lower the price of vegetables and have some impact on how much they eat in terms of vegetables, but that's just going to add more to what they're eating. It's not going to ever reduce what they're eating that's bad.
And some of the reason why people aren't responsive to price. Well, right now, you probably are involved in almost every food transaction that you make. But the majority of people live in a household where there's one person who shops, and they observe prices, and nobody else does. And they may not have any clue when prices change even substantially as they have in the last several months, they just might not know about it.
If there's really that disconnection, prices may not be that important. Those sorts of policy solutions may not work very well. With respect to information, there's a very well-developed marketing literature out there that tells us something pretty disappointing, in fact, that people don't pay much attention to health information. That they prioritize convenience and taste when they're trying to buy, and, in fact, convenience seems to be the biggest factor in what people buy rather than that health information no matter how hard we hammer it.
People don't remember health information very long. No matter how we present the information, it takes it being repeated over and over and over again continually before people will start to understand it and use it. And it can be abused, right? I mean, the fact that people understand they shouldn't be consuming too much fat leads to a whole bunch of products out there that say low fat on them, but they say low fat and neglect to mention that they doubled the sugar so it tastes OK, and you'll still eat it. Right?
They focus in on just a couple of little pieces of information and not the whole picture. They can't get to the level of detail they really need in order to make an improvement in people's diets. OK. So bottom line, the traditional tools can have some influence on what people eat, but it's not going to be a big impact. It's not going to really change how much of what they eat unless we change prices beyond what's reasonable, unless we make big, big changes in the types of information campaigns we're going to engage in, those sorts of things.
I should mention here while I got the point up here-- a lot of times, people will only latch on to health information that they find particularly agreeable with their own habits already. So people who tend to drink once in a while latch on to all the studies that say drinking is good for your heart, and they neglect the study, like the one that came out yesterday, that says it shrinks your brain.
OK? You tend to favor only those that really reinforce what you're doing, not change what you're doing. You don't like information that's painful to observe. Alternatively, behavioral economics relies on anomalies-- rules of thumb, psychology. OK? This has become a really big area of study in economics primarily in the field of finance, believe it or not, where people have all the resources in the world to make their decisions. And they have these giant computer models that they can use to try and decide what sorts of investments they're going to buy, and this, that, and the other, and we find big behavioral effects, big psychological impacts.
If it's going to have an impact there, it is very likely it's also going to have an impact during a commercial break when you're just walking through your kitchen really fast. Right? It's not going to be something you have the ability to do, to make perfectly rational decisions with food the way these decisions are made.
A lot of the problem, I'm going to suggest, is due to the fact that people can't monitor how much they consume. OK? Factors that are going to make this task more difficult are going to make it so you consume more. You naturally consume more when you can't keep track of how much you're eating. And you naturally consume a little bit less when you do have some way of keeping track.
Additionally, people tend to sort of distort how much they think they've eaten. There is a big difference, for example, in how much you think you've eaten when you take that bowl of chips and sit and watch the game, and how much you actually ate. That misperception by itself can account for a lot of calories and can account for a lot of bad behavior.
Packaging and different sorts of ways that they packed the food can impact exactly that monitoring. Right? So you've seen SnackWells where they have 100-calorie packs of different sorts of items. Those are designed specifically for that-- to try and get you to be able to recognize how much it is you're eating.
This is a graphical way of representing how I would see this model, particularly if we're talking about consumption in the home. And we think there are a few things that I'll call primitive. These are things exogenous to the model. We have to take them as given, like habits, preferences, and wealth.
Alternatively, the individual controls a lot of things, right? Within their own home they control the lighting, they control who they're eating with, they control, you know, exactly where they eat, where the TV is located, things like that. And the manufacturer has some control as well. They control how big of boxes that they sell their food in, what sort of portion sizes they have, how it's marketed, different combinations of actual foods within their product, those sorts of things.
And where we have different people controlling different types or different parts of the decision, this tells us that there's something sort of like a game going on. OK? In other words, they're playing against each other. The marketer is trying to maximize profits, and they control all those little factors that they can. And if we're talking about restaurants, of course, they have control a lot more of those factors than the ones that I listed right there.
But they control a certain number of those factors, and you control a certain number. The only interesting thing here that gets this beyond what would be sort of a normal sort of game is that the marketers, through experimentation and through their knowledge of research, are aware of how you respond to all these little changes that they make, subtle changes. And for the most part, people aren't, the consumer isn't.
In other words, we may not recognize how their changes and marketing practices are affecting our behavior. We couldn't tell you what it's doing. That creates a loss of welfare. Welfare, what's that? That's how well-off the consumer is and how well-off, also, the producer is. Right? If we look at them together, if we could get rid of that problem with information, we could make them both better off. In other words, we could make the marketer just as well-off profit-wise and make the consumer better off in terms of being healthier, in terms of eating healthier, making better decisions. OK.
So I want to give you a couple of examples to sort of back up this theory of how things are going. Yeah, I recognize. [CHUCKLES] OK. First one, sunk cost fallacy. OK? The rational economics tells us people in an all-you-can-eat restaurant, they've already paid for how much for their food, they now should just eat until they stop enjoying it. OK?
But people have this tendency to really take account of that sunk cost-- the amount they've spent on that food. So we tried a little experiment. We, as people were entering a restaurant, we gave people-- half of them-- 50% of the meal and a free drink. And another half only got the free drink, because cause one to see how that price they paid impacted how much they ate.
And to make a long story short, they ended up eating a lot more when they paid more, about 25% more, one slice-- this first bar here-- 3.1 versus 4.1 slices. In any case, a 25% increase in how much they ate. But there were some other sort of reasonable and interesting reactions. This tells us that they really are eating to get their money's worth.
But-- and I'll skip this result-- here we have something else, the impact of taste. OK. And you look on here, and there's a whole bunch of gibberish numbers that I don't expect you to be able to read, but you'll notice something that's significant here, that has a whole bunch of stars, telling us it's an important relationship when it comes to that taste of the first slice.
And what it tells us is if we look within any of those treatments, that people who like the pizza more eat less of it. OK? The people who like the pizza less eat more of it, and this sounds really contradictory. Why in the world would that happen? Well, we find really three significant relationships, and let me give you the explanation here.
First, you pay more, you eat more. This is rather obvious. This is the sunk cost fallacy. You need to eat more to get your money's worth. OK. You need to eat more to get your money's worth when you've paid more. That's sort of the baseline result.
Second one is like it less, eat more. What could drive that? Well, it takes a lot more bad pizza to get your money's worth than it does good pizza. So you're dissatisfied, I paid a lot for this, and you keep eating. OK. Are people aware of it? Not when you ask them afterwards, but that's what they're doing. And last, we actually find another effect that the more you pay, the less you like it. You set up this expectation of how good it should be, and when you pay more, you end up not liking it as much as you would have otherwise.
Another experiment that I want to tell you about. And this one, there were some people here who participated in a few years ago. We actually took over the Trillium. And half the people we had come in, and they got $20 in cash to order from a set of certain items-- some that we thought were healthy and some that we thought were not as healthy.
Another group of people got a debit card. They had $10 in cash and they also had $10 on this debit card. And whatever they spent on this debit card, right, they could get the cash back at the end, but they had to wait a couple of weeks. And we wanted to see what this would do. Economic theory tells us people with a debit card should spend more. In fact, they didn't. They didn't spend any bit different. But we find this.
Look at the calorie consumption. You consume, right, more than 50-- actually it's about 50 calories more when you're using this debit card that has this delay in the financial burden that you're going to pay, right? In other words, cash, I pull the thing out of my pocket, I start counting, and I get my head in the game, and I realize there are trade-offs here, and I eat better foods.
And when I'm using my debit card, I consume a lot higher calories. In fact, the particular calories come from unhealthy foods. You'll see here, we get the card treatment, they have a lot more money spent on unhealthy food versus healthy food relative to the cash treatment and a lot more calories coming from those unhealthy foods. They bought high-sugar items. They bought high-caffeine items. And in fact, we've done this in schools now and find a similar result.
So I want to make sure I leave time for Jennifer, so I won't spend too much time on this. I'll probably zip through the next couple of slides. Framing. I'll mention this just because there are probably some of you who might have participated in this experiment last year. We had another experiment. We had people in, and we had two different sizes of foods. OK. And some were labeled half, and some were labeled regular in one treatment. In another treatment, they were exactly the same sizes, but we labeled them regular and double.
And we get these dramatic effects where when you label them half and regular, nobody buys anything. And when you label them regular and double, everybody buys the regular. In other words, having this large-- this thing called double that makes it sound like it's way out of bounds for what you should eat-- legitimizes this smaller amount of food. And when it legitimizes it, people buy a lot more of it. Nobody wants the half. That's too small. And nobody wants to buy the largest amount because, you know, that's too big.
But when you label these correctly, then people start buying, which is why you don't find a small at McDonald's. This is why you don't find the, whatever it was, the short at Starbucks. They don't sell. They're not useful to them. OK? I'm going to burn through a couple of these. Essentially, what we find is that the amount of cognitive resources, the amount of stress people are under, help determine whether people really make rational decisions, or whether they start relying on these rules of thumb, these more hedonic decisions, decisions based on is it going to taste good, right?
That's what does it. When I'm under stress, I go for the things that are more hedonic. I go for the things that taste good-- the chocolate cake rather than the carrots. And here's some math to show you that there's actually a model behind some of this just to make you think I know what I'm talking about.
If we define foods in a certain way, so we have virtuous foods and we have sinful foods. Virtuous foods are things like carrots where how much we should eat is actually more than we really eat. Sinful foods or those where how much we eat is actually much more than we really should eat from a health perspective. OK? Then we think about what is the marketers motive in actually putting these foods out there. And what you'll find-- if food placement is in these naturally distracted areas, then it's going to be a lot more profitable to put out sinful foods.
A fast food restaurant where people are trying to get in and get out, and there's a whole bunch of noise and hustle and bustle, they're going to sell sinful foods. They're going to sell foods that you shouldn't eat that much of, because that's what sells, that's what makes a profit there. Right? And foods in a much slower environment, much less distracted environment, are going to be much more healthy because that's what sells there.
It's not necessarily that food marketers are systematically trying to make people fat, but due to the way the marketplace works, the incentives are created, so that that's what gives them the money. Alternatively, though, they could charge for less distracting environments, or they could charge for foods that facilitate this consumption monitoring that tell us how much we're eating. And in that way, they can make some profit and still give us a way to make healthier decisions. They can overcome this cognitive resource shortage that we have-- the fact that we're so stressed out when we're making our food decisions.
Last one is a complicated concept I don't want to talk about. So let me skip to my conclusions. So many of the proposed solutions to this obesity problem are really not likely to have a big effect, particularly on the obese population which are those who have shown us that they respond less to these cognitive factors and respond more to these other factors. That's how they got there. OK? And I know that, me being one of them.
The obese, however, may be exactly those who do not respond to these cognitive cues, creating an important interaction between marketers and decision makers. In other words, policymakers need to take into account how marketers are going to respond when they put these policies in place. And we may actually see negative reactions, like we've seen with health information where it's been abused to death to get people to eat things that they really probably shouldn't.
The interaction here between economics and psychology is really going to be key. It's really something we need to pay attention to. From this point, I'm supposed to introduce you to Jennifer Noble, recently married, used to be Jennifer Cole. Want to make sure I get that right. She's with the Food and Brand Lab. She'll give you a better introduction herself, but she wants to talk to you a little bit more about this in practice rather than theory. Thanks.
JENNIFER NOBLE: Thanks, David.
So just to go back where-- ooh, that's-- to where David left off, or Dr. Just left off, I'll focus more on the interaction-- where were we here-- between the decision makers. So that's my position in the Food and Brand Lab. I began about a year ago, but I worked with Dr. Wansink, who's my boss. He's currently on a leave of absence from Cornell. He's at the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. So he's in charge of MyPyramid and all those sorts of things.
So it's great to be involved with David even before Brian left to continue our policy interaction and the marketer interaction. And even taking that to the next level, which is part of my position as the Director of Operations, to take it to the food companies or the Krafts, the Wegmans, that sort of crew. So thank you again for, I guess, for David for inviting me to come in.
So what we do at the Food and Brand Lab. How many of you have heard of the Food and Brand Lab? We've been here since about 2005. Great. How many of you think you've been involved in a study by the Food and Brand Lab? Or may have been in a study and not sure if you were in the Food and Brand Lab? Great.
So part of what we do is help people use food to be who they want to be. We have our own kind of think tank powerhouse that consists of a postdoc, students that are actually involved in building a research topic and kind of taking it from start-- the concept-- contacting the company that we may or may not work with, building a questionnaire, and then finally, having the results that have the equations that make you look really smart.
And then we also have full time employees like myself. There are three of us that are currently taking the studies from start to finish. So what we do whenever we set up the studies-- that can be anywhere between having a hidden camera in the a lab which in [INAUDIBLE] Warren Hall we have our own laboratory that has a fully functioning working kitchen, and there are three cameras in there. So if you've ever been involved in the study with us that was actually in the lab you may or may not have been on camera.
We also work with restaurants. They're always looking for ways to make money, not waste food, have those win-win situations, which is where we kind of come in-- not really in a consulting capacity because we don't want to be known as people that worked only with Kraft. We want to be independent and be someone that can kind of hold hands with everyone and make sure everyone is looked out for. We also have a consumer panel of about 3,400 people. Last year, for our website, we had over 30,000 people that have been on it.
What we do is study the effects on individual behaviors. We look at the different environmental influences that may affect you and your consumption. So the lights are off right now-- David mentioned before-- you may eat more when your lights are off in your home. So we'll actually quantify how much more you may eat whenever your lights are off. So clearly, the obesity and poor nutrition over the years, diseases have been occurring-- he had the stats earlier. Using our lab, using the consumer panels, our field studies and restaurants, our interviews that we may have one-on-one with people, and then going through the data and mining all of that we explain the different hidden persuaders that may affect your everyday life.
So I think it's really a new concept for people to say, OK, it's not me, it's all these other excuses. I mean, it's not even an excuse. It's oh, that explains it. If I'm eating off of a 12-inch plate I'm going to serve myself more food than if I were eating off of a 10-inch plate. So we actually quantify what that amount would be. So one of my rules at the Food and Brand Lab is focusing on the win-win strategies, working with companies that make contact us.
We find ways that we can market products such as the 100-calorie pack. Brian actually came up with that when he was at Illinois and spent probably six months going to different companies saying, you know, if you have these 100 calories, people have a cue saying stop eating because you're going to continue eating. It's like eating out of the bag of chips. You're going to keep eating unless you put it in a bowl and actually have an end which would be your bowl is empty.
It actually wasn't a successful adoption for many years, and I think, actually, in 2002, a lot of companies began coming out with that. So one great thing about doing primary research is you're probably the first one to find it. One of the cons of doing that is maybe the companies aren't actually willing to adopt it. So that's part of my role, getting people to see how they can have these win-win scenarios. So I currently have worked with schools. I've worked with children that are aged three to five and helped incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their life. We gave them stickers and snacks and rename the foods. I work with companies, and obviously now, we're working with the government on things, so.
So whenever a company contacts me I think, OK, what are we going to focus on? So the more recent one that I was speaking with, the company about was OK, we're looking at the culture change. People are getting older. We have this new Generation Y that's coming in. What are their consumption norms? What can we use to target this big generation gap?
So we'll sit down and think about the principles and practical tools that they can be the leader in the industry, and we'll go through the options and create a plan. So for example, like I was saying, we discuss culture. I'll go through this quickly too. Things that are currently change right now-- the media. Like David was saying, you know, we're sitting in front of the TV more not getting as much exercise.
We're looking at the millennials and baby boomers, but we're also in a new generation, and we need to make sure that this generation is aware of the understanding of food. Like do they know what the nutrition labeling facts are actually telling them. We have to think about sustainability, the globalization, and how much people are actually spending on dining out and how much more they may be consuming when they're dining out.
And there is this new natural global local which is very well known in Ithica. Many people are thinking more about health and wellness especially because more and more people are becoming obese. And, of course, right now, the most recent topic is the economy. So it's kind of pulling all of these things together to think about how everyone can be benefited and be successful.
Whenever we think about any kind of new relationship, we always look at-- I like to look at the Who Moved My Cheese book. It's very simple, which is the concept that we use in the Food and Brand Lab. What simple changes can you make in your life that you can anticipate change, you can take action, you can be responsible for your decisions.
So then we take it back a step again and think about the mindless eating philosophy and how that is ahead of the culture curve. I mean, just looking at a couple of examples with all-you-can-eat pizza. I have on here the Subway, McDonald's, and this is the health halo which is another thing that David Just had discussed really if you can see that small-- it doesn't really matter.
But, basically, whenever you look at a potential diner at Subway, they think that they're eating healthily. They've got all these fruits and veg-- or the vegetables on their sandwich. But then, they think OK, I'm healthy, I may just get that soda. And if I'm just getting the soda, and I have all these vegetables, I think if I get the chips I'll still be OK. So they're grossly underestimating the calories they're consuming, whereas people at McDonald's know what they're getting themselves into.
So someone at Subway has nearly as many calories as they would at McDonald's, but they don't even think of it that way. So whenever you're looking at someone that ate healthy for lunch, they're probably going to consume more calories that evening when they go home because they still have in their head that they ate very healthily earlier in the day. So then you have extra calories that your body didn't necessarily need.
So what we try to focus on also in the Food and Brand Lab is looking at small changes that can make big differences. And even just 50 calories per day, plus or minus, can be a difference in five pounds per year. So what we really try to do is identify ways that people can use this to their benefit. Like, if not a diet, it's something small, simple that they can implement in their own lives without having to track calories. I mean, we're not a diet, so we just focus on it being a gradual problem, and it's also a gradual solution.
To go back to what David mentioned earlier-- the nutritional gatekeeper. The person that may not be looking at how the price of food is increasing, but they're the ones that are in charge 73% of what your household is purchasing. I don't know if you think about that. Like, if who the person is in your household that purchases the food, but you have a lot of power over what ends up, inevitably, on the plate of the people in your household. Just thinking about that responsibility in that respect.
The Subway and McDonald's is also the health halos example the we already mentioned. From the results of all the 250 studies that we've done so far in the Food and Brand Lab, we've set up a website that you can go through and take a quiz and even self-monitor yourself. Part of the reason that diets fail, which is why we're not a diet, is people don't stay focused on it, and they need that regular feedback-- whether that's a coach or even people that exercise, it's always great to have that person that meets you at the gym everyday and says, hey, how's everything going?
So what we're doing with the National Mindless Eating Challenge, it's a tool that you can log into online, enter in part of what your danger zones may be, and we've identified at least five. There's the meal stuffer. That's the person that sits down at the table and is with their pregnant wife and eats four extra rolls. The snack grazer-- the person that goes to a party that tries all the different foods that are available. The party binger-- who can also be the snack binger. I mean, all of these kind of relate to one another.
The restaurant indulger, and that can easily be fixed if a relationship begins with a restaurant that is willing to switch to a smaller plate and maybe charge people more for a smaller plate because how many times do you go to the restaurant now and bring home a doggy bag. It's not necessary. You could be charged less, which would also be more. Well, anyway, there's all these-- we sit around all day and think about ways to set up the study.
And then you also have the desktop diner. I don't know how many times in the past month I've sat in front of my desk and eaten my lunch. It's just great to be aware of that, so that you can make small changes in your life. So if you actually log into the National Mindless Eating Challenge website it will give you recommendations based on what you think your diet danger zone is.
So from that, for example, say that you are a desktop diner, or whatever your diet danger zone is. So we'll give you three tips. And the way I kind of apply that as well is if there's a wellness program within a company that we're working with, like this is another great tool to provide, I guess, supplemental evidence to support what they're doing. If they already have a wellness program that encourages them to take 10,000 steps a day and eat five cups of fruits and vegetables, this is something else that reminds them, listen, this is important. We want you to be successful, and you'll feel better about yourself if you make small changes in your life.
So since most of you are students, we have a semester-- a two-semester course that we take in the fall and spring. There's kind of an admissions process to get in, but we currently have 15 students that help out with that. And you can also be involved in the study leader lab. Susan-- you can sign up for it, but I think most of you have signed up for that before.
But we also have this new initiative that we're beginning, and I've discussed it a few times. If you go to a smallplatemovement.org, we have different initiatives that we're beginning to target-- the restaurant, to target magazines that may want to share the information, to target the home, to target plate manufacturers, so that they would agree to-- if they already manufacture plates, to maybe get a Small Plate Movement stamp on their plate, saying this is approved.
Because one of our studies have shown that if you switch, like I said, from a 12 inch plate to a 10 inch plate, you'll eat 20% fewer calories. I mean, just to go back to one of the research results that we had, you may have the same amount of food, but you may have a more calorie dense menu, so it's going to be a process. But if we just begin with getting rid of two inches, and set up a challenge beginning January 1, it would be great to see just how simple, small things can make great changes in your life, so I think that was it. So those are the websites that we have.
DAVID JUST: OK. So from there, I guess we'll move to questions and answers. I guess, Jennifer if you'll join with the table, if there is anybody who has questions regarding the work, what we've presented, anything else, we'll be happy to answer them. I guess we have 10 minutes for that. uh huh. Yes.
AUDIENCE: So some communities are thinking of taxing unhealthy food. Is that effective on policy or [INAUDIBLE]
DAVID JUST: So there are actually several that are thinking along these lines, and I think a few that have actually instituted it. My guess is that it won't be particularly effective because of the way it's going to be instituted. It will probably, you know, get people to substitute one particular type of bad food for another particular type of bad food. But I don't think it would be very effective, particularly given the research I've seen.
To tax all bad foods, and try to get them to avoid all of them, people just aren't that sensitive to price changes along those lines. So if there are two identical items or things that are equally bad or desirable, and I'm taxing one, fine, that's going to switch me over to this one, but it's not going to change my behavior that much overall. Yes.
AUDIENCE: How have you guys eating habits changed since you guys [INAUDIBLE] [CHUCKLES]
DAVID JUST: Go ahead.
JENNIFER NOBLE: So um--
DAVID JUST: Sure. How have our eating habits changed since we've begun studying this?
JENNIFER NOBLE: Part of what I do-- I just have tall skinny glasses, and I generally serve myself off of my salad plate for dinner. You have to live what you preach, right? But also, whenever I have a dinner at home, and it's a family-style kind of set up, I only put my vegetables on the table.
That way, if I am, you know, sitting at the table and still enjoying the conversation, I'm going to eat something that has good calories in it rather than the bread or pasta or dessert or anything like that. I would like to think that my patterns changed a lot but, it's more just being aware of those small things that I can control rather than having seven scoops of ice cream.
DAVID JUST: So within my household, my wife plays the role of the gatekeeper. So I think, essentially, what's happened is I now tell her about these behavioral effects, and these ways that we can change to make things better, and she says, that's nice, and that's about where it ends.
Other questions? Yes.
AUDIENCE: Are those stockpiling on the graphic you have? Has there been research specifically on that, like, on the effects of people buying gold and having all those things in their household?
DAVID JUST: So the question is whether there's been research on the effects of stockpiling. And, yes, there's actually been a pretty good amount done. And what you find is sort of what you would expect-- if you stockpile a whole bunch of food, right after you stockpile it, you're going to start consuming a lot of it. It's sort of like the all-you-can-eat affect, you eat a lot more of it.
That tapers off after a while. Right? So if you have a large stockpile long-term, long-term, it's not going to have that big of an impact. And it also depends somewhat on what the food is. Right? If something that tastes really good, yeah, it's going to increase it a lot. If you're stockpiling something you don't like to eat and don't eat normally, it's going to have no impact on what you do. So you have to be a little bit careful how you frame it. But, yeah, stockpiling does have an impact. Yes?
AUDIENCE: What kind of advice do you have for, like, college students who are on meal plans and we have [INAUDIBLE] Most of us [INAUDIBLE]
DAVID JUST: So what advice would I have for college students who are on meal plans? Well, so it's difficult, right, because you're almost always going to be eating away from your home. You're, a lot of the time, going to be eating in places that are really noisy and distracting, and to boot, you have this card that has some insane amount of money on it to eat for the whole year, and it just naturally tends to make you eat more than you would normally.
I think making efforts to try and eat in smaller groups or off of the normal times when people are frequenting the dining halls or the cafes might help a little bit. It might also help a little bit if you were to use cash instead of using your card. We've got the data on that now from Cornell, so we know that. But little things like that could help, that could help sort of curb, on the edge, how much you're eating. But it is difficult, really difficult. Yes.
AUDIENCE: What do you think is worse? Overeating relatively healthy foods, or not overeating, but eating less than healthy foods?
DAVID JUST: So is it worse to overeat healthy foods or not overeating with less than healthy foods? So I don't know, there might be a nutritionist here somewhere who'd be better equipped to answer that than I would. I think by definition, overeating is a bad thing. But that's sort of-- I don't know, a tautology, right?
People tend not to really want to give up the bad things that they're eating. It really takes a lot to get them to give those up. They are a lot more likely and a lot more willing to add good foods in. So while I don't really have a good thing to say about which one is better, I can tell you with regularity, people tend not to give up those bad things. They tend to overeat on the good things and feel good about themselves for it, all right, by just adding in those things.
You know, a diet that's going to get you to be overweight with a salad tacked on is not going to do much better for you. Right? That's sort of the key. Yes.
AUDIENCE: I'm not sure if there was a study actually involved with this, but I know that they changed the sizes of trays on the dining hall. Like, you can choose from the old ones and the new ones. Do you think the size of the tray also depends how much, like, a person is willing to eat?
DAVID JUST: Jennifer, do you have a--
JENNIFER NOBLE: Well, that's actually something that we're also looking to long-term with the Small Plate Movement-- making the trays even smaller within the schools. I don't personally know of any data on how much you would eat less, but I'm guessing, I mean, you can fit fewer plates on a smaller tray, so you'd either be going up for seconds, and you may not want to do that.
I'm not really sure what the size of the trays are to know, but I'm guessing does it have like the angle on each end too, so it slides around better, so I think it's more of a-- just more conducive for its environment in that case. But I'm sure that had we known that they were changing it, we would have been all about doing a study on that.
DAVID JUST: Yes.
AUDIENCE: With some of this mindless eating stuff, when people become mindful of it, like, let's say I started to buy the tall, skinny glasses to drink out of cause I knew I would consume less, has there been any work on the long-term effect of that? Well, because I know I'm drinking less, does that mean I'll give myself a second glass? Or I mean, once you become mindful of it, is it still a successful tool?
DAVID JUST: The question's about the long-term effects of some of these behavioral tricks that we're talking about. That's really one of the weaknesses of using an experimental paradigm, in that, we get to experiment and find what people are doing over a very short period of time, and what happens longer term is really hard to pin down, right? It takes more longitudinal data, those sorts of things. So there's real weakness. It's a real weakness. With that particular one, I don't know.
But there are some of these where after running our experiments and finding this result, we can then go back and look in less controlled circumstances and see if there is a similar result. Now, with the less controlled circumstances, you can't discern causality the same way you can with the experiments, but you can see if it makes sense with that result over a longer term.
For example, the debit card result holds up over a longer term from at least the initial results we've seen on data. I mean, it's going to do you better if you, over time, start switching to using cash and counting out your cash at the cash register rather than swiping a card every time. I don't know about classes, though.
JENNIFER NOBLE: But that is something that we do track with the National Mindless Eating Challenge. And we also have, I guess, we do have a consultant, but it's not us that is beginning to-- that outreach for a longer term plan that would provide phone support and ask questions for the people that are involved in that at a company.
So in due time we'll have more and more. But we are analyzing the data that we've been doing the challenge for the past, I think, since January 2006. So it's not a long long-term, because whenever you think of long-term it's at least five years, so. I mean, the book hasn't even been out that long, so. But we'd like to have that, and share that someday. That'd be a great journal article.
DAVID JUST: It looks like our time is just about up for question and answer session. Probably take one more question if you've got it. Yes.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] in the United States. Has any of it been applied internationally?
DAVID JUST: So there is an experimental literature that has done things in other countries as well. Brian Wansink and I have batted around the idea of actually trying this in a developing country context, because it really does seem like the factors driving obesity in a developing country have to be very different, and the cultural cues have to create a lot of different results.
In a sense, that's another real limit here is we've got a very narrow subject base, right? We're looking at people in the US, and for the most part, we're looking at Cornell students which are not necessarily representative of the United States, right? But are these things really going to apply in other settings? We have no idea, and that's something that really is-- it's necessary, sort of, in the next step to be able to figure that out. Are these general principles or just narrowly applicable?
JENNIFER NOBLE: There was a study on the French paradox that was recently released-- that Brian gathered data while he was on sabbatical in France just observing or even asking questions of restaurant visitors that ask them when they knew when to stop eating.
And it was more internal, like, the food no longer tasted good, the food was cold, I'm not hungry anymore. And compared that to Chicagoans, and they said, I stopped eating when the TV show was over, when it went to commercial when my plate was empty. So I mean, on some scale it has, but in the grand scheme of things, there's still so much to do in that respect.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
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Are food manufacturers trying to make you fat? Recent books and movies have popularized the image that food manufacturers are intentionally pushing unhealthy foods on the masses. This has led to bizarre and draconian policy measures from school lunchrooms to the corner deli. Why are portion sizes getting bigger? Is the current focus on regulating food retailers justified? Can we control our own behavior?
Cornell Professor David Just discussed these topics along with Jennifer Noble of the Applied Economics & Management Dept. on Oct. 15, 2008 in Ives Hall.