Restaurant of the Future May Unravel Reasons Behind Overeating
> 11/29/2007 12:58:33 PM

Newspapers across the country are filled with stories about the apparent leveling off of obesity rates in America, but the problem is still large. While many citizens are finally aware of the chemical properties of unhealthy foods, few understand the complex web of psychological factors that fuel their overeating. That is where the Restaurant of the Future comes in.

Located on the campus of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the sleek Restaurant of the Future offers a wide variety of tempting food. The name is not just bombast, because in addition to a staff of talented chefs, the restaurant is home to some of the world's leading nutrition and psychology researchers. These researchers watch patrons from a secret control room, measuring portion and bite sizes, eye movements, and anything else that they feel might hold a clue to the often puzzling eating habits of humans. An intricate system of hidden cameras, heat sensors, and scales makes the restaurant an extremely versatile laboratory. The restaurant opened in November, and already outside groups have submitted dozens of proposals for experiments that the founding scientists did not anticipate but are now able to accommodate. Some of the correlations to be examined are the relationship between consumption and ambient lights, sounds, and smells.

The Restaurant of the Future will help us understand how subtle environmental cues contribute to obesity. Less modern but similar facilities have already yielded many helpful tips. Last year, we wrote about the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, run by Dr. Brian Wansink. That lab has produced a steady stream of useful insights, such as the fact that shorter, wider glasses deceive us into drinking more and that the proximity of candy jars can warp our estimation of how much we have taken.

The Restaurant of the Future will run for ten years, so we can expect to learn a lot in the decade to come about the unconscious determinants of eating habits. While they may not find one easy, magical solution to obesity, the steady accumulation of dietary wisdom can get us to the goal of healthy weight if we become more informed and more conscious about what we put in our mouths.

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