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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Iowa: Research Team Uses Chocolate to Investigate What Causes Some People to Overeat

The taste perceptions that influence which foods we choose to eat and how much of those foods we consume may be significantly different in obese people, according to a new study by a University of Iowa research team.

The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that when people were asked to eat pieces of chocolate and rate the taste of each piece on a scale from 0 to 10, people who were obese — having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher — rated each piece higher than people who were overweight (BMI of 25 to 29) or normal weight (BMI lower than 25).

While previous studies of this kind have relied on studying participants who eat an entire meal or a large quantity of one particular type of food and reporting levels of satisfaction before and after consumption, the UI team borrowed the concept of diminishing marginal utility from economics in an attempt to gauge whether quantifying satisfaction from food in a more granular fashion can be helpful in explaining what drives a person’s decision to stop eating or continue eating.

“Diminishing marginal utility applies to any kind of consumption, not just food,” says Dr. Aaron C. Miller, assistant professor of epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. “The more you consume something, the less you like it or the less pleasure you get from it. But that has never really been studied in food in the continuous time frame we used.”

“If our findings are generalizable to other foods, they may help inform future interventions,” says the study’s corresponding author, Dr. Linnea Polgreen, associate professor of pharmacy practice and science in the UI College of Pharmacy. “Strategies aimed at reducing obesity may need to account for differences in the perceived taste.”

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