Link between food choices and obesity discussed at conference


PEOPLE WHO are obese implicitly find unhealthy foods make them very hungry while people of normal weight are made hungry by the sight of healthy foods, a psychology conference has been told.

The annual conference in Wexford of the Psychological Society of Ireland was told that at an unconscious level, there is a difference between the food choices made by people of normal weight and by obese people.

The paper was delivered by Ian McKenna of NUI Maynooth as part of a study involving 128 men and women, half of whom had normal weight, with an average body mass index (BMI) of 21, and half with an average BMI of 50.

Participants were asked to respond to a variety of images of healthy and unhealthy foods, having not eaten for two hours.

Their reactions were measured using a test that measured people’s responses before they have had a chance to think about them.

The tests showed people of normal weight found images of healthy food made them very hungry, while obese people found images of unhealthy food made them very hungry.

The two groups were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about their food choices and this time they were given time to think about their responses.

“How people who are obese or of normal weight evaluate food may be an important factor in food choice behaviour,” Mr McKenna said. “Both groups intended to eat healthily, but in a two-hour hungry state, people who are obese are implicitly biased toward unhealthy foods.”

He said the findings could help people who were obese deal with their hunger urges. “If they know in a two-hour hungry state that the sight of unhealthy food will make them feel very hungry, they can prepare themselves by carrying a healthy snack instead of going to a local shop where unhealthy food is on display.”

The study was carried out in conjunction with the diabetes and weight management clinic at Loughlinstown hospital in Co Dublin.

Clinical psychologist Dr Pauline Moloney told delegates that the criteria to assess the suitability of women for breast reduction surgery was too limited. The test only focused on her physical condition, but should include a psychological assessment, she said.