Rachel Bailey, assistant professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, found that if a variety of foods are readily available in a room where people are watching food advertisements, those individuals will go for the high-calorie, high-fat, energy-dense foods over low-calorie, low-fat choices.
However, if food isn’t available in the room, individuals are more motivated by energy-dense foods but don’t necessarily prefer them.
Bailey said this is due to energy input versus output. Individuals are more motivated by “foods that will deliver the energy needed to cover the expenditure for finding them (i.e. higher energy density foods), but if other food is encountered in the meantime, it will suffice.
“If I need a snack and I have to get up and go to the kitchen – or worse, walk across campus – I might choose something far less healthy because I have to expend energy to get there,” she said. “If I can plan ahead to have satisfying, healthy choices more readily available than calorie-laden snacks, I am more likely to make better choices.”
She is working on a follow-up study that expands these psychophysiological data to actual food choices in different circumstances.
Her study, “Modern Foraging: Presence of Food and Energy Density Influence Motivational Processing of Food Advertisements,” was published last month in the journal Appetite.