Supersizing–the practice of buying larger portions for a small bump in price–has for decades led people to buy upsized unhealthy foods. But the desire to score a bargain could be used in reverse to encourage healthy food choices, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University.

Researchers identified two ways portion size and price converge to influence consumers so they either buy less junk food or more health food, and they both involved luring people with the promise of a good deal. First, huge, bargain-sized portions sell, even those of health food.

Consumers will buy supersized anything—even bags of veggies—to capture the thrill of a good bargain. 

“Consumers are very attracted to deals in general and saving money per unit is very appealing to us, even when the deal is getting a larger bag of baby carrots,” says Vanderbilt marketing researcher Kelly Haws.

The study also found that junk food is not so irresistible that consumers will ignore price when buying it. Getting a good deal trumps other decisions.

Consumers will buy smaller portions of unhealthy food if it’s priced appropriately compared to the supersized serving. 

“There’s no question in my mind we would get many more consumers to choose the smaller entrée size if the price were exactly proportional to the size of food that they’re receiving,” Haws said.

Supersizing works because the seduction of saving pennies overrides the guilt of making unhealthy choices, researchers said. The new 100-calorie packs of cookies, crackers, and candy illustrate this concept. Other ways of convincing consumers to stick to smaller portions include signs reminding diners of nutritional goals.

Portion size is critical for people looking to lose weight or maintain a svelte figure. 

The French, for example, are famous for their rich chocolates and cheeses, but manage to keep the weight off by eating small portions. Portions have grown progressively larger over the years, however, especially in the U.S., and many people have lost the ability to gauge an appropriate amount of food to eat. Because people traditionally feel the need to clear their plates, larger portions have led to larger waistlines.

When eating protein such as meat or fish, the meat should be the same size as a deck of cards. Cheese should be eaten in portions about the size of two nine-volt batteries, and bagels should be about the size of a can of tuna.

Would you eat healthier food choices if it were supersized?

Image by Kenny Louie via Flickr


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