THURSDAY, May 5, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Seeing overweight people can cause you to choose unhealthy foods and to eat more of them unless you consciously focus on your health goals, according to new research.
In one experiment, people walking through a lobby were asked to take part in a quick survey that included photos of an overweight person, a normal-weight person, or a lamp. As thanks for completing the survey, the participants were told to help themselves to a bowl of candy.
Those who saw the photo of an overweight person took more candies than those who saw the other two photos, the investigators found.
The study was recently published online in the Journal of Consumer Research.
In another experiment, people invited to participate in a cookie taste test ate twice as many cookies or candies after seeing someone who was overweight. This occurred even in people who wanted to maintain a healthy weight and knew that cookies and candy can lead to weight problems.
"Seeing someone overweight leads to a temporary decrease in a person's own felt commitment to his or her health goal," study authors Margaret C. Campbell, of Leeds School of Business, and Gina S. Mohr, of the University of Colorado in Boulder, explained in a journal news release.
However, the researchers found that two main factors helped people resist overeating when they saw overweight people: thinking about their health goals and being reminded of the link between unhealthy eating and gaining weight.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines how to prevent weight gain.