Large Portions May Make a You a Bigger Person in More Ways Than One

By Rebecca Jones

Despite America’s expanding waistline more people are still opting to supersize their food choices. According to a study this may have as much to do with social standing as it does appetite.

In a country where bigger is always better; bigger houses, larger TV’s, fancier cars it’s no wonder our obsession with consuming extends to the food and beverage market as well. According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research people will often choose larger food portions because they are associated with higher social status.

Researchers assembled a group of volunteers and asked them to rate the status of certain consumers based solely on the size of the food or drink they purchased. Despite being told that all of the products were free the volunteers consistently judged those that ordered a large as being more respected than those who chose a smaller size,

Researchers also found that when people are made to feel powerless or small they are more likely to upsize their order. Ordering a large cappuccino or soda, especially when out in public,  seems to fill the psychological need to get rid of the discrepancy between how someone is feeling and who they would like to be.

Unfortunately the relief that comes from supersizing your dinner is short lived.  Over eating is linked to poor health and obesity, both of which tend to lower a person’s sense of social status. According to recent obesity statistics, people is lower income household s have a higher rate of obesity than in households that make over $50,000 a year which seems to support this latest study.  The fact that portion sizes continue to grow is not helping the situation either.

Researchers note that this trend can also help reverse the obesity trend. In another experiment volunteers were given a choice between several hors d’oeuvres but this time they were told that the smaller bites came from a presidential party and the larger ones came from a local book club. This time participants chose the smaller portions because they were associated with a higher status.

It is a dangerous tool in the hands of unscrupulous advertisers to know how to play into people’s sense of powerlessness and social aspirations but understanding what drives people’s motivations can also help us better understand why we make the decisions that we do and what messages we can send to get people living a happier and healthier lifestyle.