Edible Stop Signs to Curb Overeating


According to health experts, mindless eating is one of the biggest contributors to the obesity epidemic in the U.S. Part of the problem is that relying on feelings of satiety to cue a person in on that they need to stop eating comes too late with respect to the number of chips, cookies or other bite-sized morsels an individual eats while occupied by a distraction such as TV. Recently, however, researchers may have found one way to cue snackers with edible stop signs to curb their overeating—red colored potato chips.

The snacking habits of college students were measured in a segmentation interval test where red-colored potato chips were placed at specific intervals within a tubed can of primarily yellow-colored potato chips. During a movie, different test groups of students were given cans of potato chips to snack from that in one study held red-colored chips either every 5 chips or 10 chips per can. In a second study the red chips where placed every 7 or 14 chips. Control groups ate from chip cans that lacked red potato chips.

What the researchers found was that segmenting a can of yellow potato chips with an occasional red-colored chip resulted in students eating less chips than if they had been given a can consisting entirely of yellow-colored chips.

According to a statement provided by Cornell University, "People generally eat what is put in front of them if it is palatable," says Brian Wansink, Cornell Food and Brand Lab director and co-author of the study published in the journal Health Psychology. "An increasing amount of research suggests that some people use visual indication—such as a clean plate or bottom of a bowl—to tell them when to stop eating. By inserting visual markers in a snack food package, we may be helping them to monitor how much they are eating and interrupt their semi-automated eating habits," he states.

The purpose of the study was not only to quantitatively measure snacking habits, but also to find a scalable method of food-packaging presentation that could help snackers reduce the amount of snacks consumed by making portions sizes more salient and segmented.


The dual-study, two-interval red chip segmentation results were statistically similar in showing that red chips placed in the tubes reduced the total number of chips consumed by as much as 50%. Furthermore, the data also showed that individuals who ate from cans containing red chips were much better at estimating the actual number of chips they had consumed in comparison to individuals who ate from cans containing yellow potato chips only.

The researchers concluded that segmenting packaged food can effectively reduce consumption and that segmentation offers cues as stop signs that may work for snackers by one or all of the three following mechanisms:

1. Segmenting calls attention to and encourages better monitoring of eating
2. Segmenting suggests smaller consumption (portion size) norms
3. Segmenting breaks automated eating sequences by introducing a pause.

"The effect demonstrated and replicated in these studies stands as perhaps the largest practicable procedure to decrease food intake in the literature," Wansink said. "Marking modest portion sizes promises to be an effective strategy in the attempt to reduce food intake and obesity."

The authors of the paper say that further studies are needed among larger, more diverse groups to determine how segmentation cues actually work and whether people will wind up compensating for the reduction in food intake by eating more later on.

Image Source” Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “Red potato chips: Segmentation cues can substantially decrease food intake” Health Psychology, 2012; 31 (3): 398; Andrew Geier, Brian Wansink and Paul Rozin.


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