Out of sight, out of mind may be the best way to approach food if you want to keep yourself from overeating.
According to new research from Charles Emery, a psychologist at Ohio State University, the way we store food around the house can have a major impact on how much we eat and ultimately how much we weigh.
Though there are a lot factors that contribute to obesity, including genetics, lifestyle, and income—Emery sought to uncover how the home environment can play a role in influencing eating behaviors, which he said had previously been “largely left unexamined.”
In 2013, Emery and his team started monitoring the homes and kitchens of 100 people—half of whom were medically obese. The team analyzed the amount and type of food people kept in their homes and where it was stored.
After analyzing the data, Emery’s team noted several important findings in the study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity in April. They found that "homes of obese individuals had less healthy food available than homes of non-obese" and more food in the home overall. Obese study participants were more likely than their counterparts to keep more food visible in places where they spent a lot of time compared to non-obese participants. For example, obese people often kept snacks in the living room and bedroom, or other places where food would be more easily accessible at all times.
"It doesn't take a big leap of faith to say if you're spending most of your time where there's more food sitting out to see, that's going to make it harder not to eat," Emery told NPR’s The Salt.
One reason obese people may have more food around is that they are more likely to be depressed. Food is kept close by as a source of comfort, according to Emery, which leads to furthering bad habits of overeating.
Though Emery’s study is not the first to link environmental factors to obesity, other scientists warn that associations do not provide causation.
"[Emery's study] doesn't tell us much about why people are obese or how to help them lose weight,” James Hill, a physiological psychologist at the University of Colorado, told The Salt. Hill was not a part of this latest study but reiterated that doctors should not be advising patients based on this data alone as the study was conducted on an observational basis.
Still, David Just, a behavioral economist at Cornell University told The Salt that doing more of these types of studies has the potential to help people form healthier eating habits, whether it be type of food or frequency, as well as aiding to find a causal link between environment and eating tendencies.
"If we're able to pull off those types of studies ... and find the causal link it might suggest, you know, we redesign home layouts so people end up eating less often and eating healthier foods more often," Just says. "But this is a basic first step."