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This is a quirky study, published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers at Johns Hopkins. The basic message is: if you have to work harder to get a certain type of food, you end up finding it tastier than food that you didn’t have to work as hard for. As the press release explains:
[M]ice were trained to respond to two levers. If the mice pressed one lever once, they were rewarded with a sugary treat. Another lever had to be pressed 15 times to deliver a similar snack. Later, when given free access to both tidbits, the rodents clearly preferred “the food that they worked harder for,” [researcher Alexander] Johnson said.
The results held up even when the hard-to-get food was a low-calorie version of the treat. This means, Johnson suggests, that “down the road, obese individuals might be able to alter their eating habits so as to prefer healthier, low calorie food by manipulating the amount of work required to obtain the food.”
That’s a heck of a public health message. Yes, our problem is that healthy food is too easily available, and junk food is too hard to get. To solve the obesity crisis, we need to make potato chips freely available on every corner, while making possession of a carrot a felony offense — that’ll train people to love the taste of carrots!
Okay, okay. It’s a neat (and amusing) study, and it confirms something most of us already knew: food tastes better when you’ve worked up an appetite. Let’s leave it at that, and not pretend we’re going to use this idea to train our taste buds.