Source: CORNELL UNIVERSITY submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
State Agricultural Experiment Station
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Sep 1, 2007
Project End Date
Sep 30, 2009
Grant Year
Project Director
Wansink, B. C.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
People generally are not aware of how subtle changes in the environment can dramatically influence how much food they eat. The purpose of this project is to determine how the environment may bias psychological processes, which then may influence food consumption behaviors.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
The environment is often cited as a contributing factor to obesity. The purpose of this project is to determine how the environment generally and the marketing environment specifically influences psychological processes, which then may influence food consumption behaviors. The upshot of this research will be to provide behavioral and environmental strategies to consumers, the government, and industry that help curb unnecessary consumption, yet is beneficial to all parties involved. In addition, two websites have been created to disseminate the results of these projects to the public at-large (;
Project Methods
Participants will be recruited to take part in studies that seek to understand better the way in which environment biases food consumption. Each session may last from 20 minutes to 3 hours. Participants will be compensated for their help by the receipt of extra credit, cash, or both. Upon arriving in the lab, participants will be seated and given the cover story that is appropriate for the respective study. The cover story stipulates a particular scenario that occurs during the course of the experiment. Once this scenario is completed, participants will be told to perform one of more tasks, such as estimating serving sizes and calories of food presented to them, taking as much food as they would like to eat, consuming as much food as they like, etc. Following this, each participant will be given a short demographic questionnaire that asks questions such as their sex, height, weight, education, etc. At the end of the study, participants will be fully debriefed as to the true nature of the study and given time to ask questions of the experimenter. If participants have any concerns, they will be addressed by the experimenter. If these concerns imply that further action is necessary, that action will be taken to assure the well-being of the participant. The results will be analyzed using univariate and multivariate statistics with (p less than .05) being the conventional level of significance. Based on results, journal articles and/or intervention education plans will be developed and introduced to low-income individuals and an illiterate segment through the nutrition outreach component of the Cornell Extension Service. Based on feedback from this population, materials will be made immediately available on the web and through the media.

Progress 10/01/08 to 09/30/09

OUTPUTS: The purpose of this project is to determine how the environment generally and marketing environment specifically influences psychological processes, which may then influence food consumption behaviors. During this period our work focused primarily on two audiences: adults and school-age children. A series of laboratory studies were conducted to explore environmental influences on food consumption in adults. Topics included environmental biases of calorie consumption, influence of peer body weight on eating behavior, suggestiveness of caffeine, effect of food preparation on food intake and external cues of food consumption. Studies were conducted with over 1000 college students ages 18-30 and with adults age range 30-70. Studies were all targeted towards measuring the effect of environmental factors on food intake and measures included psychosocial variables, food choice and food consumption. Data from the studies were coded, entered and preliminary data analysis was conducted. In addition, our work also focused specifically on how environmental influences affect eating behavior in school-age children. We conducted environmental scans of 5 New York State schools including elementary, middle and high schools. We have formed collaborations with schools across the country and have planned site visits to these locations. We conducted a series of field studies with 500 children ages 5-16 to explore potential environmental influences that could be utilized to encourage healthier eating in children. Field study topics included the effect of the arrangement of food on a plate, encouraging consumption of unfamiliar foods with environmental changes, happy meals for increased vegetable consumption, the power of choice, and the effect of type of food consumed on aggressive behavior. Data were coded, entered and preliminary analysis is in process. PARTICIPANTS: Brian Wansink was the PI/PD for the project and led the team in research, education and outreach. He designed the Mindless Eating Challenge and provided media coverage throughout the term of the project. Jennifer Noble was a research support specialist for the project and assisted in research development and outreach development. Laura Smith was a research support specialist for the project and assisted in the development of educational materials, dissemination of the materials and outreach efforts within CCE statewide. Partner Organizations included Cornell Cooperative Extension- Tompkins, the Tompkins County Coalition for Families, TCAction (Headstart Programs), and the Franziska Racker Centers. Partner organizations assisted in research, educational material development and dissemination of programming and materials. Collaborators include Collin Payne, Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of New Mexico, Santa Cruz, and David Just, Associate Professor, Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University Training of Professional Development As a result of the project, we have developed a professional development program called Consumer Camp which utilizes the educational material developed within this project within a three-day workshop for professionals and consumers. A training opportunity on using educational materials in the classroom and with parents was provided for 75 employees related to the Head Start programming in September 2009. TARGET AUDIENCES: The SCALE project targets low income urban black and latino overweight families. The Nudging Nutrition project targets families in a low income area of upstate New York. Smarter Lunchroom Initiative targets schools with high rates of poverty in their district. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period.

When participants were presented with food choices in the presence of an obese person, they chose and ate less healthy foods. Even when the obese confederate ate healthily, participants chose and ate less healthy foods suggesting that body type of eating companions influences peoples food consumption behavior. In another study measuring food consumption of restrained and unrestrained eaters, we found that restrained eaters ate more snacks while watching television than unrestrained eaters. Preliminary analysis of a third study showed that when children were given meat on the bone, they demonstrated an increase in disruptive behavior compared to when children were given meat off of the bone. As the results are analysed, papers will be published and submitted to academic journals. As a result of this work, our research group has received an NIH Challenge grant titled Nudging Nutrition: Setting Healthier Defaults in Supermarkets and Homes. In addition, Wansink is a co-investigator on a NIH funded Center for Behavioral Intervention Development titled SCALE Small Changes and Lasting Effects. Both projects utilized preliminary findings from this project. This project has also provided the foundation for the Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative ( which provides outreach and educational materials to food service directors, extension and academia around the country in efforts to encourage healthier eating in children without restricting choice.


  • Wansink, Brian and Collin R. Payne (2009), The Joy of Cooking Too Much: 70 Years of Calorie Increases in Classic Recipes, Annals of Internal Medicine, 150, 291-291.
  • Botti, Simona, Susan Broniarczyk, Gerald Haubl, Ron Hill, Yanliu Huang, Barbara Kahn, Praveen Kopalle, Donald Lehmann, Joel Urbany, and Brian Wansink (2009), Choice Under Restrictions, Marketing Letters, 19:3-4, 183-199.
  • Just, David R. and Brian Wansink (2009), Better School Meals on a Budget: Using Behavioral Economics and Food Psychology to Improve Meal Selection, Choices, Fall, 2009.
  • Wansink, Brian, David R. Just, and Collin R. Payne (2009), Mindless Eating and Healthy Heuristics for the Irrational, American Economic Review, 99:2 (May), 165-69.
  • Wansink, Brian, Koert van Ittersum, and Carolina Werle (2009), How Negative Experiences Shape Long-term Food Preferences: Fifty Years from the World War II Combat Front, Appetite, 52:3, 750-752.
  • Just, David R., Calum G. Turvey, and Brian Wansink (2009), Bio-security Terrorism, Food Safety, and Food Consumption Behavior: Using Experimental Psychology to Analyze Economic Behavior, Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 34:1, 91-108.
  • Wansink, Brian and Pierre Chandon (2008), Meal Size, Not Body Size, Explains Food Intake Estimation Errors, Practical Diabetology, 27:4, 6-8. Wansink, Brian and Collin R. Payne (2008), Consequences of Belonging to the Clean Plate Club, Archives of Adolescent and Pediatric Medicine, 162:10 (October), 994-995.

Progress 10/01/07 to 09/30/08

OUTPUTS: The purpose of this project is to determine how the environment generally and the marketing environment specifically influences psychological processes, which may then influence food consumption behaviors. During this period our work focused on the execution of the project Changing the Incentives for Daycare Snacks and Meals, for which funding in the amount of $98,796 was obtained from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This 18-month project began in September 2007 and uses a series of field experiments in daycare centers in upstate New York. We examine how salience (awareness) and expectations influence the food choices and attitudes of 3-5 years old children and what types of changes will be most effective and easy to implement to encourage healthy food choices among them. Consumption of healthy foods by children has been shown to be markedly influenced by subtle environmental interventions. We designed and pre-tested experiments and successfully recruited 11 classrooms in the Head Start Program of Tompkins County and 3 classrooms at the Franziska Racker Center (FRC) in Cortland. Studies at the Head Start locations were conducted between March and May 2008 and at FRC in June 2008. The studies ran 5 days per week and data was collected simultaneously in either two classrooms within the same location, or at two nearby locations. For our studies we used two approaches: 1) introduction of descriptive labeling for healthy foods and 2) introduction of favorable icons with healthy foods. For the experiments we re-named tomatoes as "tomato blasts" and matchstick carrots as "x-ray vision carrots" to make them sound more fun or simply labeled them "food of the day". For the snack, we gave them the option of either an apple or a cookie and associating it with a sticker illustrating either a popular cartoon character or a simple green sticker or using no stickers at all. All the foods and forms of presentation had to be approved by the Head Start Board for their use in the studies. Observation took place in the classrooms and typically healthy foods were available for the kids to serve themselves or be served by their teacher. We recorded how many pieces of carrot or tomato they ate and especially whether they asked for additional servings. Snack time took place before the end of the day (generally after a nap), where we presented them with the choice of a cookie or several apple slices, both pre-bagged. The bags containing the foods would be labeled differently depending on the day (simple green stickers, an Elmo sticker or no sticker on either bag for a control). We asked the kids what their choice would be, provided them with their chosen snack and observed: whether they ate their snack and recorded the leftovers, if they chose to not eat and take it home and whether they wore the sticker if it was provided. We were able to recruit a total of 209 (3-5 years old) children and their families for the studies, 150 of which attended Head Start Program in Groton, Lansing, Dryden, Ithaca and Trumansburg and 59 attended the Franziska Racker Center in Cortland. Data from the studies was coded and entered and preliminary data analysis was conducted. PARTICIPANTS: The following organizations played a key role in the execution of this project and the accomplishments reported here. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - Healthy Eating Research Program (sponsor) Head Start Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services located in Groton, Lansing, Dryden, Ithaca and Trumansburg (conduction of studies). The Franziska Racker Center in Cortland, a school that serves both typical and special needs children in an integrated setting (conduction of studies). Early Childhood Center at Cornell (advising and facilitating connections with Head Start Program) TARGET AUDIENCES: This project focused on low income, minority and special needs children and their families in Groton, Lansing, Dryden, Ithaca, Trumansburg and Cortland in upstate New York. Ninety percent of the children attending the Head Start Program come from families with incomes under 100% of poverty guidelines or lower and 17% come from ethnic minority groups. The Franziska Racker Center in Cortland serves both typical and special needs children in an integrated setting. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period.

A total of two hundred and nine 3-5 years old children and their families, teachers and daycares in upstate New York benefited directly from this project in its research component which was completed during the period covered by the present report. Preliminary findings show that children that chose the bag of apple slices with an Elmo sticker over a cookie (for a snack) would choose the bag of apple slices over the cookie on the next occasion even without the Elmo sticker. This suggests that the addition of a known character to a healthy food has a real potential for inducing kids into choosing it over a not so healthy option. Similarly, once exposed to the x-ray vision carrots kids ate more of the carrots even when labeled food of the day. No such strong relationship was observed for tomatoes, which could mean that the label used (tomato blasts) might not be particularly meaningful for children in this age group. More in-depth analysis of the data is currently underway. Outreach and extension activities are scheduled to take place during the last six months of the project. On the basis of the results from the data analysis we will develop educational materials for teachers and parents and will conduct workshops in each of the participating locations to deliver the results and recommend strategies for parents and the Head Start Board.


  • No publications reported this period

Progress 10/01/06 to 09/30/07

The environment is often cited as a contributing factor to obesity. The purpose of this project is to determine how the environment generally, and the marketing environment specifically, influences psychological processes, which then may influence food consumption behaviors. Although this projects timeline as just started, important progress has been made. This includes obtaining Cornell IRB (Institution Review Board) approval; recruitment of the professional who will coordinate the preparation, execution and follow-up activities for this project; development of a targeted list of pre-schools in the Tompkins county school district who will be invited to participate in this project.

Though there is no measurable impact so early in the project, based on the pre-schools identified for Tompkins county, the expectation is that families in those schools as well as other families in the County will shortly see their lives impacted by their participation in this project.


  • No publications reported this period