Science and Technology

Researchers get to the bottom of why people eat

For former My Kitchen Rules contestant Thalia Papadakis, the switch from cooking on television to researching eating behaviour has been an easy transition.

A University of Tasmania honours student in psychology, Ms Papadakis is assisting psychology researcher Dr Benjamin Schüz to recruit volunteers and carry out important research about what triggers food cravings in people.

“I’ve always been interested in food and cooking, and what makes people eat, so I am really excited to be able to learn more about it,” she said.

The project, which will focus on the influence of people around us on our eating behaviours, requires 60 volunteers to photograph and log everything they eat or drink and answer a few questions about their mood and the situation they were in at the time.

Participants will be asked to carry a custom-programed mobile phone for two weeks to log their meal data.

Dr Schüz and the team used the mobile phone technology in 2015 to look at how people’s current location and situation influenced eating decisions.

“This time because there is such a strong and massive influence of people eating around us, we want to find out how that works,” he said.

“Eating is exceptionally complicated so we want to look at a little bit of the picture at one time.”

In the long term Dr Schüz hopes the research will create a deeper understanding of the complexities of why people eat what they do, and provide a basis for more effective support of people who need to change their diet.

Participants won’t receive feedback on what they eat, as the phone stores only their responses.

Researchers also won’t be able to connect data with any one individual, but the data of all participants will help researchers find out more about what makes people choose healthy or unhealthy food.

Participants will be reimbursed for their time with a $50 voucher.

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