The Road Paved with Good Intentions

People asked to choose between a “good” snack and a “bad” snack may not make the choice they said they would when the snacks finally arrive. In an article in the September/October 2008 issue of The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior*, researchers in Holland found a substantial inconsistency between healthful snack choice intentions and actual behavior.

The study involved 585 office employees recruited in their worksite cafeterias. Participants were asked what they would choose to eat among four snacks: an apple, a banana, a candy bar, and a molasses waffle. About half of the participants said they would choose the apple or banana-a “healthy” snack. But when the snacks were in front of them one week later, 27% switched to the candy bar or waffle. 

But there is integrity among “bad” snackers…over 90% of the unhealthy-choice participants chose the unhealthy snack just like they said they would. Hey, we have to take our accolades where we can get them!

Although intentions are often closely associated with what people really do, it doesn’t always work that way. One explanation is that intentions are usually under cognitive control, while actual choices are often made impulsively, even unconsciously.

At times, the link between intentions and behavior is stronger. In healthy eating behavior, a strong positive attitude toward healthy eating, a high level of dietary restraint, and regular consumption of healthy foods could increase the healthy intention-behavior consistency.

Investigator Pascalle Weijzen, Division of Human Nutrition, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, comments that “a substantial gap between healthy snack choice intentions and actual behavior was demonstrated. Despite that gap, the results suggest that individuals who plan to make a healthful choice are more likely to do so than those who plan to make unhealthful choices. Because more than 50% of the population seems to have no intention at all of making a healthful choice, identifying tools by which this group can be motivated to choose a healthful snack is strongly needed.”

Sourece: Elsevier Health Sciences

*The article is “Discrepancy Between Snack Choice Intentions and Behavior” by Pascalle L.G. Weijzen, MSc; Cees de Graaf, PhD; and Garmt B. Dijksterhuis, PhD. It appears in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 40, Issue 5 (September/October 2008).

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