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Putting billboards of healthy foods can break unhealthy eating habits

| Updated: Jan 28, 2017 12:28 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], Jan. 28 (ANI): People are easily pulled into binge culture's quick-fix obsession with junk-food, but a new study says simply putting up signs that point out healthy food options in a food court can be an effective way to counteract unhealthy eating habits. The findings, published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, indicated that using simple interventions, such as reminders of how unhealthy certain foods are or interrupting the automatic processing of junk-food cues. Equally, simply putting up signs that point out healthy food options in a food court can be an effective way of bringing us into a volitional state of mind. Laura Corbit along with team of researchers from the University of Sydney were curious to find out how food cues, such as billboards and commercials, affect our decisions about where, what and how much to eat. In order to figure out useful strategies against obesity and metabolic disease, they used lab rats to conduct a series of experiments replete with oreos, pringles, jelly snakes and chow. They showed that environments where tasty high-fat and high-sugar treats were routinely consumed induced habitual control: animals lost the ability to make volitional nutritional choices based on the current value of food. Animals were initially given repeated exposures to junk-food or bland chow environments. After being food-deprived, they were trained to press levers that provided either sugar water or pellets. The first experiment showed that a junk-food environment caused rats to exhibit a more habitual mode of behaviour than a bland chow environment. In a second experiment, the rats were placed in junk-food or bland chow contexts, creating specific environmental cues associated with specific food types. They found that the cue played in the bland chow context improved sensitivity to the devaluation of food, when rats were subsequently placed in the junk food context after having been fed. A sound cue paired with bland food is all it took to take rats out of a habitual mode of behaviour and back into a volitional mind frame. If the frequently habitual nature seen in rats is translated to people, this study offers encouraging insight. As a corrective to obesity and metabolic disease, humans can come up with their own preventive cues, which may jolt them out of habit and into health. (ANI)