Eating Healthy – It’s the Proximity, Stupid!

It was 1 PM, Jan 15 2012. Health Foods

At the Delft University of Technology, a group of researchers did a simple experiment.

Two groups of 25 students each were guided to two separate rooms – one group in each.

All 50 students were quite hungry.

In the first room, the first group of 25 students was allotted a table each. Right next to each table was a bowl of potato chips and a plate of cheese pizza. Slightly further away (they just had to stretch themselves to two arms’ length) from each table were a plate of salad and a bowl of fruits.

In the second room, the food menu was identical, except the positions of junk food and healthy food were interchanged. Right next to their tables were the salad and fruits, and at two arms’ length, the really appetizing pizza and potato chips.

What do you think happened?

I would have thought that in both rooms, the tasty but junk food would have been completely gobbled up, while the healthy but quite “untasty” foods would have been untouched in the first room and only slightly consumed in the second. After all, even in the second room, all they had to do was to stretch out a bit for the more tasty food.

The results could not have been more stunning.

Sure, most of the pizza and potato chips were wiped clean in the first room. But amazingly, almost 50% of the pizza and potato chips were left uneaten in the second room.

More fascinating, while over half of the fruits/salad in the first room remained uneaten, less than 20% of this set remained in the second room.

  Room 1 – Junk food right next, fruits/salad a bit far away Room 2 – Healthy food right next, Junk food a bit far away
Junk but tasty food remaining Healthy but bland food remaining Junk but tasty food remaining Healthy but bland food remaining
Before 100% 100% 100% 100%
After 0% 60% 45% 15%


In Room 1, the results were as expected. All the tasty food was consumed, though surprisingly, reasonable amounts of healthy foods were consumed too.

Room 2 was a real surprise, with almost 50% of tasty (but unhealthy) food remaining untouched.

What was happening?

The researchers concluded that this was the Proximity Effect in action.

When we are presented with a choice between something that is good for us, though unappealing, and something that is not good for us though more appealing, we opt for the good but unappealing option IF IT IS THE EASIEST THING TO DO.

Interesting stuff.

What do the results of this experiment mean to all of us who wish to avoid junk food and eat more healthy foods?


Keep some healthy foods right next or very close to you, whether you are at home or office. There is a good chance you will reduce your consumption of junk food by half.

That is a big benefit from such a small tweak, isn’t it?

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