Obese People Display Different Behavior at Chinese Buffets

Obese individuals often have evident behavioral and eating habits that are thought to exacerbate their condition, such as eating large portions of unhealthy foods, and consciously not exercising. A recent innovative Cornell University study, conducted on individuals eating at Chinese buffets, indicates that obese people have numerous subconscious tendencies that also contribute to their dangerous condition.

Obesity is a growing worldwide concern, and has taken on epidemic proportions in the United States. Nearly one quarter of American adults are considered to be clinically obese, while over 60% are overweight. Numerous causes, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, socioeconomic status, race and genetics, have been established in connection to the condition, though it is thought to be largely preventable. Obesity has also been closely linked to life-threatening diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. While the above causes of obesity are well-established, little is understood in the way of subtle behaviours that propagate or worsen the condition.

Researchers monitored 213 individuals eating at 11 different Chinese buffets, some being obese, and some of “normal” weight. None of the participants were of Asian decent, in an effort to limit any confusion caused by external factors that would change eating habits of the participants (perhaps Asians would eat more ethnic Asian food than other types of food, presumably). The observations of these eating sessions were very interesting.

The researchers observed that obese individuals sat an average of 16 feet closer to the buffet than non-obese diners. 42% of obese individuals sat facing the buffet, opposed to 27% of non-obese participants. 38% of normal weight people chose booth seating, while 16% of obese individuals chose a booth over a table. 9% of obese individuals used chopsticks, while 24% of people of normal weight used the potentially more difficult eating tool. And 67% of obese individuals immediately served themselves from the buffet (without browsing), as opposed to 29% of normal weight individuals.

There were no external stimuli, besides the food, to motivate each diner to behave one way or another. “What’s crazy is that these people are generally unaware of what they’re doing – they’re unaware of sitting closer, facing the food, chewing less, and so on,” says lead author Dr. Brian Wanink. So it’s fascinating that so many obese people, who are likely so at least partially due to overeating, subconsciously adhere to these tendencies. “These seemingly subtle differences in behavior and environment may cause people to overeat without even realizing it,” says Dr. Wanink. This study might help enforce that directed and conscious efforts must be made to avoid and reverse the trends of obesity.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Wanink, Brian. Smith, Laura. Obesity news release. October 2008.