Take a quick scan of the food sitting on your kitchen counter — don't worry, we'll wait.
Welcome back. What did you find? Your answer to that question may have an unexpected connection to how much you weigh, according to an October 2015 study published in the journal Health Education and Behavior.
Researchers from Cornell University were welcomed into more than 200 homes in Syracuse, New York, where they photographed the items on homeowners' countertops in order to investigate the role that a person's "food environment" plays when it comes to their body mass index (BMI).
The researchers found that women who had soda bottles sitting on their counters were the heaviest group, weighing about 25 pounds more than their soda-less neighbors. But soda wasn't the only problematic counter food: Women who had boxes of breakfast cereal out in the open weighed about 20 pounds more than their neighbors who didn't.
"With something that's more innocuous, something that has a health-halo, like cereal, that's where we really get tripped up," says lead study author Brian Wansink, PhD, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions For Everyday Life. "The healthier something is, the more we actually overeat it, thinking that we're not doing ourselves in. But we really are."
Ready for the skinny on the women who weighed 13 pounds less than their neighbors? Their kitchen counters featured bowls of fruit.
"We found that one type of fruit is good, two types of fruit is even better," Dr. Wansink says. "And we found that if this bowl is within two to three feet of where you typically walk in the kitchen, [that] can help greatly."
Just don't expect the fruit effect to happen overnight. "It takes at least two weeks (for this behavior) to catch on," he explains. "Many people need time to adjust to change, so you may think it looks unusual sitting on your counter or table."
More Food for Thought
The findings may sound predictable so far, but get this: Bowls of candy weren't connected to people with significant weight issues. "These adults typically only weighed about two pounds more than the person who doesn't have candy out," Wansink says. "We think this is because most of us know there's a big warning sign over this stuff, so we tend to stay away from it."
Dr. Wansink and team also took note of the non-food items that were on kitchen counters, such as food processors, blenders and radios. The appliance found on the counters of heavier men? A toaster.
"They weighed about 13 pounds more than men who didn't have a toaster out," Wansink adds. "We're thinking this is because bread in restaurants may taste great, bread at home can seem like, 'whatever,' but toasted bread — now that's good!"
Wansink adds that the findings are correlational, but these researchers still practice what they preach: "We've got a saying in our lab: 'If you want to be skinny, do what skinny people do,'" he says. "About three days after completing most of our studies, everybody in my lab makes these changes right away."