In a new study suggesting laziness could be tapped as a tool for healthier eating, people reached for low-calorie apple slices more often than buttery popcorn when the apples were within easier reach.
"There are the little things that we can do to just make our diets healthier, and one of them is the simple idea to just put the healthy foods closer to you and you'll find you can use your laziness to your advantage," Gregory Privitera told Reuters Health.
Privitera, a psychology researcher at Saint Bonaventure University in Bonaventure, New York, led the study, which he says was inspired by experience with his kids.
"Every time my kids would tell me, 'I want a snack,' I would point to the bowl of fruit on the kitchen table and just say, 'go at it - you can have as many as you want.,' and they'd say, 'oh I don't want that,' and I'd say, 'okay then, make your own snack," Privitera recalled.
"And then lo and behold, they'd come walking by a minute or two later with fruits and vegetables in their hands," he said.
"I realized they're not going to make their own snacks, they're going to take what was easier to get, the fruits on the kitchen table," he said.
Privitera said early studies by Brian Wansink at Cornell University in New York using bowls of candy were also an influence.
"He found the closer you put the bowl of candies, the more that people ate of them," Privitera said.
Privitera said he and his coauthor Faris Zuraikat wanted to know whether the type of foods used in such a study made a difference, so they did a similar experiment with healthier foods.
"The short answer is no - we can put healthy foods in and move them closer to a participant and they'll eat more of that," Privitera said. "We showed that last year in a study with carrots and apples."
To go beyond choices between two healthy foods, the researchers recruited new study participants and added buttered popcorn to the mix.
For the new study, the researchers selected 56 men and women who were, on average, 19 years old and in good health. Twenty were of a healthy weight, 21 were overweight and 15 were obese.
One at a time, each participant was seated at a kitchen table where a bowl of apple slices and a bowl of popcorn had been placed; one was within arms' reach