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Hungry Shoppers Buy More High-Calorie Foods

ITHACA, N.Y.—It’s no surprise that going to the grocery store on an empty stomach results in a fuller grocery basket and bigger bill, but new research published in the JAMA Internal Medicine found hungry shoppers actually purchase 23% more high-calorie foods than shoppers who are not hungry.

Researchers at Cornell University conducted a study to investigate whether people just buy more when food deprived or do they specifically increase purchases of high-calorie, relative to low-calorie, foods.

The research included a laboratory study in which 68 paid participants were asked to avoid eating five hours prior to the study, although during some of the sessions some of the participants were given crackers so they would no longer feel hungry. A follow-up field study tracked the purchases of 82 participants at different times of the day when they were most likely to be full or hungry.

Hungry laboratory participants chose a higher number of higher-calorie products but there were no differences between conditions in the number of lower-calorie choices and the total number of food items selected. Field study shoppers who completed the study at times when they were more likely to be hungry (between 4-7 p.m.) bought less low-calorie food relative to high-calorie food options compared with those who completed the study when they were less likely to be hungry, the results also indicate.

“Even short-term food deprivation can lead to a shift in choices such that people choose less low-calorie, and relatively more high-calorie, food options. Given the prevalence of short-term food deprivation, this has important health implications," the researchers said.

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