06/25/2013 04:25 pm ET

Size-Related Food Labels Affect How Much You Actually Eat, Study Finds


Is that 16-ounce soda considered a "small" or a "large"? The answer could influence how much you end up consuming, according to a new study.

Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. David R. Just, of the Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University, found that people tend to eat more of an item if its size is termed "regular" than if it's termed "double size" -- even if the actual portion is the same.

"If labels are used as size information, policies governing normative names could help reduce food consumption or reduce waste," the researchers wrote in the study, published in the journal Health Economics.

For the study, researchers served study participants either one cup of a lunch item, such as spaghetti, or two cups. However, for some of the participants, the one-cup portion was called "half-size" and the two-cup portion was called "regular," while for the other participants, the one-cup portion was called "regular" and the two-cup portion was called "double size."

The participants ate more of the food when eating from the "regular"-labeled portion, compared with eating from the "double-size"-labeled portion -- even though the portion sizes were actually the same.

And along those lines, people's willingness to pay for food also seems to be hinged on size-relative food labels -- if a food is considered a "half size," they are only willing to pay half the price as a "regular" portion, even if the actual portion sizes aren't reflective of their labels.

This is only the latest research Wansink and his colleagues have conducted on consumer behavior and food psychology. In the past, they found that the color of a plate could influence how much you eat, too, Scientific American reported.

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