those clever wansink brothers

Many of you are probably familiar with the work of Brian Wansink, who heads the Food and Brand lab at Cornell, wrote the book “Mindless Eating” and has done awesome experiments to show exactly what makes Americans eat so much (and it has nothing to do with our knowledge about nutrition). Things like big plates, friends that eat a lot, cheap prices… all environmental cues. For people like me who find this fascinating, I highly recommend his book, as well as this one that I’m currently reading on behavioral economics.

Yesterday, however, while watching the CBS Sunday Morning show, I learned that there is another smart Wansink brother – Craig Wansink, who is in the Religious Studies department at Virginia Wesleyan. Put them together, and what type of study do you think they could work on?

How about: portion distortion of the last supper?

Yes! What an interesting idea, says the art historian in me (I took AP Art History in high school, so I am somewhat knowledgeable). Most of us in the nutrition world think about portion distortion as something that has occurred since the 1950s or 60s, not over the past thousand years! However, that is exactly what the Wansink brothers found. Analyzing 52 of the most well-known depictions of the last supper, they found that the plate size increased 66% and overall meal size by 69%, with the largest increase happening between the years 1500 and 2000.

So, if even Jesus wasn’t immune to portion distortion – how can we possibly expect everyone else to be able to eat controlled amounts? My experience with counseling knows that teaching nutrition knowledge does little to make positive behavior changes (i.e. “eat less”) when there are so many environmental cues to eat more. Thus, I think behavioral economics and the changing of “defaults” is the way to go. Stay tuned for more about this topic!


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