Segmentation cues substantially decrease snack intake, says study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Inserting red crisps as 'segmentation cues' cut intake of the snacks by half
Inserting red crisps as 'segmentation cues' cut intake of the snacks by half

Related tags: Nutrition, Eating

Subconscious ‘stop signs’ placed in snack food products could help the battle against obesity by controlling overeating, according to the findings of a new study.

The research – published in Health Psychology ​– set out to discover a scalable method of food packaging presentation, which would help reduce food consumption by making portions sizes more prominent and segmented.

Led by Professor Brian Wansink of Cornell University, USA, the research team carried out research on US college students to see whether using segmentation cues in the form of edible markers could reduce the amount of crisps consumed while watching a video clip in class.

The team added crisps that had been dyed red into the packets of snack products as a way of segmenting portion sizes in a subconscious way.

"People generally eat what is put in front of them if it is palatable,"​ explained Wansink. "An increasing amount of research suggests that some people use visual indications such as a clean plate or bottom of a bowl to tell them when to stop eating."

The team found that segmenting the crisps effectively reduced consumption in all settings.

Study details

Wansink and his team served crisps in a tube package to a group of 98 US college students while they were watching video clips in class.

The team revealed that the students given crisps packaged with the segmentation cues ate 50% less than their peers who received no cues – even though the students were unaware of why some of the chips were red.

Wansink said the crisp packs containing dyed crisps acted as subconscious ‘stop signs’ that reduced the amount of food consumed.

He suggested edible serving-size markers, like red crisps, could act as a subconscious stop sign that could be used by industry to help promote better portion control.

The researchers also suggested that such segmentation cues may operate by a number of mechanisms, including: calling attention to and encouraging better monitoring of eating behaviours, actively suggesting smaller consumption (portion size) norms, and breaking automated eating sequences by introducing a pause cue. 

Source: Health Psychology
Vol 31(3), 398-401, doi: 10.1037/a0027221
"Red potato chips: Segmentation cues can substantially decrease food intake"
Authors: Geier, Andrew; Wansink, Brian; Rozin, Paul

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