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'Happy Meal Effect' Can Help Adults Lose Weight, Study

Update Date: Dec 09, 2015 09:16 AM EST

'Happy meals' tend to work well not just for children, but even for adults. It could in fact prevent people from overeating, say researchers from the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management and the University of Southern California, according to HNGN.

Would both adults and children eat less if they were offered a non-edible bonus? Seven experiments made people opt for either more or less food, but with additional bonus.

Researchers noticed that the people were ready to give up a larger meal if they could get a smaller one with a prize. Participants opted for smaller meal portions just for the sake of the freebie!

Hence, university students and staff preferred half a sandwich as well as the chance "to win 10,000 frequent flier miles or a $100 gift card" over a full one.

The preference remained the same when the prize was reduced, as contributors were willing to give up the full sandwich and choose the half sandwich, as well as the option to win a $50 gift card.

Even sixth graders exhibited the same habit. About 78% of the participants opted for the half portion, which was pushed through with "cheap" earbuds.

It was quite remarkable that those who opted for the smaller portions did not try to compensate for their lost calories by eating extra portions.

Study author Martin Reimann, assistant professor of marketing at Eller, admitted that the results of the study might "open up a whole new matrix of ways" to bring about a transformation in "unhealthy food practices". Hence, the "happy meal effect" can help people to reduce their eating portions.

"If non-food rewards, even small and uncertain ones, can be just as engaging at a neurochemical level, then restaurants can potentially motivate healthier choices without jeopardizing sales, and consumers have more paths to avoid overeating," said Reimann in a press release.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

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