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Larger Food Portions May Be Seen as Status Symbols

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 26 (HealthDay News) -- People who feel powerless may choose larger food portions in an attempt to boost their social status, a new study suggests.

Northwestern University researchers found that people equate larger food portions with higher social standing. For example, study participants believed that people who opted for a large coffee had more social status than those who chose a medium or small coffee, even when the price was the same.

The study also found that people who feel powerless (such as those in lower socioeconomic groups) selected larger pieces of bagels than others, and chose larger smoothies when they were at a social event than when they were alone.

The findings were released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

"An ongoing trend in food consumption is consumers' tendency to eat more and more. Even more worrisome, the increase in food consumption is particularly prevalent among vulnerable populations such as lower socioeconomic status consumers," study author David Dubois, of HEC Paris, and colleagues at Northwestern University wrote in a journal news release.

The team noted that it's common for people to equate the size of a consumer product -- such as a house, TV or vehicle -- with social status.

The researchers also found that when powerless people were told that smaller hors d'oeuvres were served at prestigious events, they selected the smaller food items.

"Understanding and monitoring the size-to-status relationship of food options within an assortment is an important tool at the disposal of policy makers to effectively fight against overconsumption," the study authors concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about food portions.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Journal of Consumer Research, news release, Oct. 21, 2011

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