Where you eat matters

American Kitchen 2The type of kitchen you have in your home and the way it’s organized could have a bigger influence on your eating/snacking habits – and your waistline – than you might think. And the biggest culprit? The American kitchen.

Since the 1980s Americans have opened up their kitchens, blending them into the living room so that they become one room, or opening up doors and walls so that people can easily move from one space to another.

A consumer research agency called Red, based in New York and Copenhagen, thinks that the role of the open-plan kitchen in encouraging an unhealthy level of snacking – grazing – has been overlooked.

The agency says that when it conducted in-depth research about kitchens for a multinational consumer goods company it found that while more flexible space brought families together, the open arrangement also gave the entire family easier access to the kitchen and, “mothers no longer controlled what the family ate and when they ate”.

The now-standard American open-plan kitchen design “supports informal snacking” the researchers found, making it easier, for example, for people to pass through the kitchen and grab a quick snack before heading off to school or work. It also gives children easier access to cupboards and refrigerator, “and with an easily accessible fridge stocked with their choice of food children are essentially being given an invitation to snack.”

The researchers assert that, “While there are all kinds of factors that play into childhood obesity and the rise of a snacking culture it’s clear the open-plan kitchen has a role.”

Is it a more than a coincidence that in much of Europe, where obesity rates are far lower than in the US, the open-plan kitchen is still uncommon? In fact the French refer to it as “an American kitchen” – an alien import that real estate agents flag up to potential buyers.

The researchers’ finding was really a side-issue to the main research, but is in fact backed up by heavyweight academic research – specifically that better organising your kitchen can help you lose weight.

Clearing out the kitchen clutter changes your eating environment, according to Professor Brain Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food & Brand Lab. This approach, known as “slim by design,” works more effectively than trying to lose weight through sheer willpower.

One example is keeping healthy foods out in the open and attractively displayed, and keeping indulgent snacks and treats out of sight.

Or putting healthy snacks on your easiest-to-see refrigerator shelf in clear containers, while storing more indulgent snacks in opaque containers, high on a pantry shelf near the ceiling or low on a shelf near the floor.

In tandem, these findings suggests it’s not just what you eat, or how much – it’s also where you eat that influences your health.

Posted in Editorial, Mainsite

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