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People May Eat More When Headlines Bear Bad News

FRIDAY, Jan. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Tough economic times can lead people to eat much more than they normally would, a recent study finds.

So, to cut down on calories, tune out bad news, the study author suggests.

Study participants who were given numerous messages about tough times ate nearly 40 percent more food than those who were given neutral messages. The researchers also found that messages about tough times led people to desire more high-calorie foods.

In one experiment, participants were told that they were taking part in a taste test for a new kind of M&M's candy. They were told one bowl had M&M's with high-calorie chocolate while the other bowl had M&M's with low-calorie chocolate. In fact, there was no difference in the candies.

Before doing the taste test, the participants were shown posters that contained either neutral sentences or sentences about struggle and adversity. Those who saw the struggle and adversity posters ate about 70 percent more of the "high-calorie" candy than the "low-calorie" option, while those who saw the neutral posters ate about the same amounts of both types of candy.

The study, released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Psychological Science, received no funding from private industry.

"It is clear from the studies that taste was not what caused the reactions, it was a longing for calories," study author Juliano Laran, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, said in a journal news release.

"These findings could have positive implications for individuals in the health care field, government campaigns on nutrition, and companies promoting wellness. And, certainly beware of savvy food marketers bearing bad news," he added.

"The findings of this study come at a time when our country is slowly recovering from the onslaught of negative presidential campaign ads chalked with topics such as the weak economy, gun violence, war, deep political divides, just to name a few problem areas," Laran noted.

"Now that we know this sort of messaging causes people to seek out more calories out of a survival instinct, it would be wise for those looking to kick off a healthier new year to tune out news for a while," he suggested.

More information

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers nutrition tips.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Psychological Science, news release, Jan. 22, 2013

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