Objective quantification of the food proximity effect on grapes, chocolate and cracker consumption in a Swedish high school. A temporal analysis

PLoS One. 2017 Aug 10;12(8):e0182172. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182172. eCollection 2017.


Close food proximity leads to increased short-term energy intake, potentially contributing to the long-term development of obesity. However, its precise effects on eating behaviour are still unclear, especially with food available for extended periods of time. This study involved two similar high school student groups (15-17 years old), which had ad libitum access to grapes, chocolates and crackers during an hour-long experimental session. In the distal condition the foods were placed 6 meters away from the students (n = 24), in contrast to the proximal condition (n = 17) were the food was placed near the students. The identification of the type and the quantification of the amount of each food selected, for each individual serving, was facilitated through use of food scales and video recording. In the proximal condition individuals served themselves grapes and crackers more often and consumed more chocolate than in the distal condition. In total, participants in the proximal condition ingested significantly more energy (726 kcal vs. 504 kcal; p = 0.029), without reporting higher fullness. Food proximity also affected the temporal distribution of servings, with the first five minutes of the sessions corresponding to 53.1% and 45.6% of the total energy intake for the distal and proximal conditions, respectively. After the first five minutes, the servings in the distal condition were strongly clustered in time, with many students getting food together. In the proximal condition however, students displayed an unstructured pattern of servings over time. In conclusion, this study strengthens past evidence regarding the important role of food proximity on individual energy intake and, for the first time, it associates continuous food proximity to the emergence of unstructured eating over time. These conclusions, expanded upon by future studies, could support the creation of meaningful intervention strategies based on spatially and temporally controlled food availability.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Chocolate*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Eating / physiology
  • Eating / psychology
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Schools
  • Sweden
  • Vitis*

Grants and funding

Internationella Engelska Gymnasiet Södermalm (Internationella Engelska Skolan) and Division of Applied Neuroendocrinology (Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet) received funding from the European Community's Information and Communication Technology Programme under Grant Agreement No. 610746, 01/10/2013–30/09/2016 (http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/home_en.html). The funder provided support in the form of salaries to Langlet B., Ioakimidis I., Fagerberg P. and Glossner A., but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.