The Happy-Meal Effect: Can Less Food (Plus Prize) Motivate Better Choices?

It’s becoming clearer that unlocking the complexities of human behavior, especially food motivation, can impact good and poor health. In a profound paradox, who would ever have thought the McDonald’s Happy Meal model could be so instructive?

Researchers led by Martin Reimann, PhD, of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, set out to see whether people would opt to eat less if food were paired with a nonedible bonus—comparable to a nonfood toy in a Happy Meal.

In a series of seven experiments, the research team demonstrated repeatedly that kids and adults would often decline larger portions when given the choice of a smaller portion paired with a very modest nonfood bonus. In fact, just the possibility of getting a “prize” incentivized people to forgo larger portions.

According to a University of Arizona press release, in one experiment 78% of sixth-graders passed up a full sandwich when given the option to take a half sandwich plus a set of dollar-store earbuds. In another, university staff and students were significantly more likely to choose half-portion lunches when they were paired with the chance of winning a $100 gift card or 10,000 frequent-flier miles.

Results gathered from multiple studies showed not only that nonfood incentives reliably encourage people to choose smaller portions, but also that

  • when rewards are not guaranteed, knowing the odds of winning can be less motivating than simply knowing that winning is a possibility, even when the odds are relatively good;
  • the same reward can motivate time and again (in one experiment the chance of winning a gift card or frequent-flier miles worked for 3 days straight);
  • participants choosing smaller portions don’t compensate for missed calories by eating more the next day; and
  • smaller portions paired with bonuses/potential prizes activate the same reward, desire and motivation areas of the brain that “light up” for full portions, as shown by fMRI testing.

While there were some notable anomalies, the takeaway is clear: Nonfood rewards—both guaranteed and uncertain— make people significantly more likely to choose less food.

Says Reimann, assistant professor of marketing at Eller, that fact swings open a compelling door of possibilities for personal and social change. “Overconsumption makes people unhealthy and unhappy,” he says in the news release. “Yet trying to regulate consumption by law threatens people’s sense of freedom to choose. If non- food rewards, even small and uncertain ones, can be just as engaging at a neurochemical level, then restaurants can potentially motivate healthier choices without jeopardizing sales, and consumers have more paths to avoid overeat- ing. In general, these studies open up a whole new matrix of ways we might begin to change unhealthy food cultures and behaviors.”


Source:  by Sandy Todd Webster on Feb 18, 2016

The article appeared in the June 2015 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

Should You Eat and Drink During Exercise?

David Nieman ran his first marathon in the 1970s, when dreadlocks rivaled ponytails and granola hadn’t given way to Gatorade. “The fact that during exercise you’re supposed to drink sugar water and that helps you – at first we just scoffed and said, ‘That doesn’t sound right,'” says Nieman, a professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus who’s run 57 marathons since.

Today, the pendulum has swung the other way. Sugary sports drinks, bars, gels, chews – you name it – are mainstream among marathon runners and mall walkers alike. One market research report estimated that the global sports nutrition industry could exceed $45 billion by 2022. Group fitness class participants are washing down energy bars with squeezable applesauce packets, and kids are showered with sports drinks and cookies after short soccer games, observes Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian in Denver and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “We don’t need all of that,” she says.

But there is a happy medium. After all, some athletes (professional or recreational), weekend warriors and even gym rats need to fuel in motion to support their performance, improve their recovery and even protect their immune system, Nieman says. Here’s what to ask yourself to figure out if, when and what advice about eating during exercise applies to you:

1. What’s my goal?

If, like most Americans, you’re trying to lose weight, finding enjoyable, sustainable ways to move should take priority over finding the best snack to pack in your gym bag. In fact, one study out of the American Marketing Association even found that foods with packaging that promotes fitness – think Clif bars and Wheaties – can actually discourage people from exercising, perhaps because eaters feel like they can check their “did something healthy today” box. (Reminder: Eating a “fitness food” isn’t the same as going to the gym.)

“In a nation where … 7 out of 10 adults are overweight or obese, the last thing they should be thinking about is taking in calories while they’re exercising,” Nieman says. “You’re negating a lot of the good of that exercise bout.”

2. How long am I exercising?

If you’re, say, playing tennis for 45 minutes or jogging for 30, leave the gels at home. But if you’re running a half-marathon or doubling up on workout classes, plan to nutritionally recharge around 45 minutes in, Crandall recommends, even though you probably won’t feel hungry since your blood will be shuttled away from your digestive tract. After about 90 minutes of high-intensity exercise, the stored carbohydrates your body’s been powered by will run dry, Nieman says. “If you don’t do something about it,” he says, “exercise becomes more labored, you become more inflamed, you have more oxidative stress, you slow down and recovery is more painful.” No thank you.

3. What type of exercise am I doing?

A two-hour road race isn’t the same as logging two hours lifting weights at the gym (but flirting, stretching and showering during one of them). If you’re continuously working hard enough to make singing, but not talking, a struggle, the 90-minute refuel rule applies, Nieman says. “If you’re in the weight room and you’re really serious and you’re putting in a couple hours or more, then having a banana or Gatorade is definitely going to help,” he says. Same goes for lengthy basketball, soccer or other intense sports practices or games.

4. What should I eat?

That’s Nieman’s lab’s central question. In a 2012 study, he and colleagues compared how seasoned cyclists fared when given bananas and water versus a sports drink during two 75-kilometer rides. They found both options worked equally well performance-wise, but the banana excelled in other areas, too. “In that banana are other compounds that can benefit the athlete,” including fiber, potassium and vitamins and vitamin B6. In more recent research, Nieman’s team has found that eating bananas during exercise boosts dopamine in athletes’ blood, which acts like ibuprofen to combat inflammation.

Other research has shown the power of other fruits and fruit juices like dates, beets and watermelon – all of which contain different phytochemicals, or plant nutrients, that support exercisers in different ways – for athletes in motion. “I don’t think you can get much better than fruit,” Nieman says. Aim for 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates (that’s a half a banana to a full banana) every 45 minutes to an hour, Crandall recommends.

5. What about hydration?

A general rule of thumb is to drink 8 to 10 ounces of fluid before a long workout or race and about 4 ounces every 15 minutes during the event, Crandall says. To personalize that recommendation further, weigh yourself (naked), work out for 30 minutes (clothed) and then weigh yourself (naked) again. Double the amount you lost in kilograms to find how many liters you sweat per hour, says Brendon McDermott, associate professor of the Graduate Athletic Training Program at the University of Arkansas who chaired the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s position statement on the topic. While most people sweat 0.5 to 1 liters per hour, if you drip much more or less than that, drink more or less accordingly. “The goal is to individualize it,” McDermott says.

6. What works for me?

Knowing yourself is more important than knowing the latest fueling and hydrating research. Keep tabs, for example, on your thirst, weight, urination frequency and urine color in the days prior to your long workout, McDermott says. If any three of them are off – say, you’re not thirsty, you’re peeing more often and your urine is pretty clear – adjust (in this case, reduce) your fluid intake accordingly. As for fuel, experiment with different products and combinations – maybe water and a half a banana one day and a sports drink with potassium and sodium the next – to see what settles in your stomach and fuels you best. “The worst thing people can do,” McDermott says, “is try something new on race day.”


By Anna Medaris Miller, Staff Writer |Oct. 16, 2017, at 10:15 a.m.

7 Keys to Weight Loss Adherence

Despite the vast amount of money Americans spend trying to lose weight each year, permanent weight loss remains elusive for many people. Do you want to lose weight? The good news is you can use the following seven strategies to support your weight loss and contribute to long-term adherence to a particular diet. These suggestions come from Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP, a pediatrician in Vista, California, a registered dietitian and the senior adviser for healthcare solutions for ACE.

1. Keep a food journal. Prior to starting a diet, keep a food log for 3 days, including 2 typical weekdays and 1 weekend day. This will help you identify baseline eating habits. Measure portions and read nutrition labels. Find an app or a food tracker (a good quality, free one is to input the recorded information for a summary of calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat. Then, once on the diet, you can periodically check in and compare current eating habits with the diet’s suggested regimen.

2. Be realistic. What do you need to do to adhere to your new eating plan? If the changes feel too drastic, consider the most realistic opportunity for change.

3. Assess the home environment. To adhere to an eating plan, your home environment has to support the plan. Clean out foods that are inconsistent with the eating plan, and load up on healthier, nutrient-dense options. Try reducing quantities and using smaller plates and utensils.

4. Incorporate a do-
able physical activity program. A “doable” program is likely not only to provide results but also to be something you actually enjoy and find relatively easy to incorporate into your daily routine. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150–250 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity for improved health and to prevent weight gain (Donnelly et al. 2009). This is equivalent to about three 10-minute activity bouts per day.

5. Garner support. Social support is a very important predictor of weight loss success. Social circles also predict health behaviors. Reach out to family, friends and coworkers who are like-minded and are practicing healthy behaviors. If none are, look for a group at your fitness facility or in your community.

6. Self-monitor weight. By keeping tabs on your weight, you can see when regain begins and make the necessary adjustments to stop it. In fact, studies suggest this is a key behavior of people who lose weight and keep it off (Coughlin et al. 2013).

7. Check in with a weight loss coach monthly. The Weight Loss Maintenance Trial found that the individuals most likely to maintain their weight loss had monthly personal counseling sessions incorporating nutrition and physical activity for at least 2 years. The sessions were brief and took place by phone (Svetky et al. 2008). (To find an ACE Health Coach, see