Monday, November 7, 2011

Interesting Study on Size and Status

Last week, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health newsfeed pointed to an interesting column that was featured on the New York Times website.  The column is about how people associate the size of food portions with status.  The thought is that food is one thing that people have some control over so that when they are feeling otherwise powerless, they turn to eating bigger portions to gain some sense of power.

A couple of questions to ponder:

(1) Is this basic human nature or is it a part of American (or perhaps, more broadly, Western) culture?

(2) Is this something that can be changed?  The article suggests that it may be possible to change the perception of what holds status.

(3) Why is the size of the portion in our utility function at all?  In theory, wouldn't a rational utility function be based on satisfaction of biological needs?  Or is the fact that we have minds that can think and feel and experience emotion something that makes us so different and pushes us to include things in our utility functions other than just biological satisfaction?

(4) How expensive would it be to change the perception of what holds value at a societal level?  And, could it be cost-effective despite that expense given the large economic burden of obesity and related conditions?

(5) What is it that those who already feel in power actually seem to have very different  preferences--focusing on minimalism in a variety of ways?  Is it that power shapes preferences or preferences lead to power?  Or could it vary depending on where a person starts in life?

All of these issues could suggest something to us about how to approach trying to change the epidemic of obesity in the United States or could simply suggest how difficult the task of change is likely to be.

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