Friday, February 3, 2012

Food, Visualization, and Choices

A recent study conducted at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, concluded that children are more likely to choose healthier food if exposed to images of that food. Photographs of vegetables were placed on lunch trays, and the students choices were tracked. Consumption of green beans and carrots increased significantly (two-fold increase for green beans; three fold increase for carrots) compared to the control day without photographs. 
The findings are not surprising, especially in the context of visualization. This is more than just whimsical musing of "The Secret." There is actual science behind the concept of just thinking and visualizing something (a task, general success, or, in this case, food) and then successfully seeking and obtaining it. 

Food could be considered an ultimate visualization factor because our digestive system anticipates food before it even enters our bodies. The cephalic, or anticipatory, phase of digestion occurs at the thought, sight, or smell of food. A neural reflex, involving the activation of the vagus nerve, sends excitatory signals to the enteric nervous system (part of the nervous system that controls gastrointestinal function). The signals cause the release of digestive hormones in the stomach. Our bodies are ready and willing to eat what's coming. 

Imagine if billboards and television advertisements were filled more often with photographs of healthy foods. Instead of denying sugary cereals of their cartoon mascots, advertisements could focus more on glorifying grains, fruit, vegetables, etc. Instead of magazine covers and billboards focusing on the outcome of a strong and fit body, focus on the source. 

A cursory Google image search for fast food billboards does not demonstrate any of the healthy options (e.g. apple slices for a side substitution at McDonald's or Wendy's, salads, etc.). Also try to recall the last time you saw a savory plate of a healthy homecooked meal on your television screen. 

Could this be a part of the equation for people to start making healthier choices? Just daily visual exposure of healthy food. It's so simple that it might just work.

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