Lesson from the lost paradise: how to best induce into temptation

Serious people, and scientists are part of them, do not hesitate to look far in the past, beyond classical bibliography and Pubmed citation. A team of psychologists from the university of Maastricht in the Netherlands, did so1. The problem they wished to solve was whether fruit consumption in children could be enhanced by prohibiting access to an appealing presentation, as opposed to regular fruits. Appealing means that fruits were cut into pieces. Fruits were apple, pineapple and carrots.

Ninety four kids, aged four to seven years old, were randomly divided into three groups: one was prohibited eating regular fruits, the other one appealing fruits and the third one was free to choose among those two presentations. In a second phase, the children were allowed to eat freely whichever kind of fruit they preferred. Guess what happened! The kids preferred the appealing presentation! The restricted groups, even for appealing fruits, did not eat more than the unrestricted groups.

Some comments are required. The kids were rather old, i.e. beyond three years of age. The liking of fruits was already undermined by the education they received at home. The huge variability into fruit consumption is likely to reflect not only appetite but also familiar nutritional and educational background. The interesting point is of course that cutting fruits into pieces doubles the mean portion size consumed which shifts from an average 73±67 to 135±74 g. Two additional remarks are required: presenting ready to eat fruits to babies and toddlers is mandatory and part of normal feeding as long as the kids do not have mature chewing capacities; biting into a big fruit suggests children have been trained to do so. This way of eating takes place at earlier ages in some families than in others. An additional point to underline is that some children consumed a huge amount of fruits: more than the average weight of a common raw apple, orange or portion of any fruit. Not only does appealing presentation induce consumption but it increases portion size beyond usual amounts. The study does not say what happened the next days: would this appealing presentation remain attractive or not and would consumption turn back to basic level?

The restriction strategy was used in order to test variations into healthy food consumption. The point is that it is likely to be effective with any other food, including those which should be highly limited or even avoided. People who work in the field of marketing know it well and use it: packaging is intended to facilitate consumption and it does! Limited series of any product, i.e. the fear of restriction, is used to sell product to adults, from airplanes tickets to wines. The very positive aspect of this study is that such strategies work for food which is often denied attractive presentation. This should be kept in mind in order to support eating at all ages in healthy and sick people. Who can resist a flavor of paradise?!

  1. Jansen E, Mulkens S, Jansen A. How to promote fruit consumption in children. Visual appeal versus restriction.
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