Human eating behavior. Strategies to deal with the obesity epidemic

Friday 12 de September 09:25 am


Dr. Paul Rozin

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Dr. Paul Rozin

Paul Rozin was born in Brooklyn, New York.  He attended the University of Chicago, receiving an A.B in 1956, and received a PhD in both Biology and Psychology from Harvard, in 1961.  His thesis research was sponsored by Jean Mayer.   He spent two subsequent years working with Jean Mayer as an NIH postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. Since then, he has been a member of the Psychology Department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is currently Professor of Psychology. Past scholarly interests included food selection in animals, the acquisition of fundamental reading skills, and the neuropsychology of amnesia.  Over the last 25 years, the major focus of his research has been human food choice, considered from biological, psychological and anthropological perspectives.  During this period, he has studied the psychological significance of flavorings placed on foods in different cuisines, the cultural evolution of cuisine, the development of food aversions, the development of food preferences, family influences in preference development, body image, the acquisition of liking for chili pepper, chocolate craving, and attitudes to meat. Most recently, major foci of attention have been the emotion of disgust, the entry of food issues (e.g., meat, fat) into the moral domain in modern American culture, French-American differences in the food domain, attitudes to recycled water, the psychology of music, and the nature of remembered pleasure. Some of the recent research is carried out in France, Japan and India, as well as the United States.  In the last few years, he has also investigated forgiveness, aversions to ethnic groups, and ethnic identity. 

Paul Rozin is a member of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, has twice been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, was a visiting Scholar for Phi Beta Kappa, and a Visiting Scholar for one year at the Russell Sage Foundation.  He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award for 2007.  He was an editor of the journal, Appetite, for ten years.

Paul Rozin has been teaching introductory psychology for about 30 years, has chaired the psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania, directed the university-wide undergraduate honors program, and has been involved in developing policies and teaching materials to guarantee a minimal competence in quantitative skills and critical thinking in University of Pennsylvania undergraduates.   He was also a founding director of the Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict. 

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Comportamiento alimentario humano. Estrategias para enfrentar la epidemia de obesidad

Comportamiento alimentario humano. Estrategias para enfrentar la epidemia de obesidad

Comportamiento alimentario humano. Estrategias para enfrentar la epidemia de obesidad

Comportamiento alimentario humano. Estrategias para enfrentar la epidemia de obesidad


Instead of sacrificing food flavor to count calories down, servings should be reasonably sized to be enjoyed without gaining weight, said Dr. Paul Rozin, a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award for 2007.

In the opening presentation on this second day of the 2014 Latin American Scientific Series, Dr. Rozin referred to a fascinating subject, not much touched upon by academic work, though: different perceptions of food around the world.

Rozin, also an editor of the journal Appetite for ten years, stated that the idea behind his participation is to reflect upon ways to change the environment around our eating experience and how can this impact on us.

"We´ve seen that diets simply don´t work. I´m sorry for that, but it´s true. It is very important to consider that you don`t need to reduce the pleasure in eating, you don´t need to have tasteless food to eat healthy and cut down calories. It makes more sense to try to change the environment rather than the people if we intend to reduce obesity rates. My research is not concerned with obesity treatment, but rather with the way people develop their own experience perception when eating", he explained. 

Doctor Rozin started presenting a paradox to the audience: if it were true that obesity is an life- threatening epidemics all over the world, there wouldn´t be such a radical difference with undernourished populations. He reported that 842 million people in the world are not receiving any food, whereas about 500 million people are obese. 

Probably, he said, the problem is being tackled with a reductionist approach.

Rozin´s hypothesis suggests that the way societies are eating today is based on a combination of feelings, perceptions and servings that can well be determinant of body mass index in the population.

To show that, he presented a study carried out by his team that compares eating habits and conceptions of the French and the Americans. 

A first result showed that the French have a life expectancy two years longer than Americans, but how is this possible if they eat more fat? The same thing happens with other societies like the Spanish, Italian or Australian.

Details of Rozin’s study based on multiple surveys reveal that, for instance, American women think of chocolate as something with a great amount of fat. Whereas French women think of chocolate as something delicious.

One thing is true, the French like eating very much and do not sacrifice good taste for caloric content, while Americans prefer eating something tasteless but containing very few calories. 

Keeping this data in mind, why is it that obesity in France is at least half when compared with obese population in America?

Rozin and his colleagues carried out a study to mathematically compare the size of individual food products in French and American supermarkets. As a result, they detected that the average food serving in Paris is 277 grams versus the 346 grams you can find in the US. This means that, in the United States, average servings per unit are 25% larger that in France. 
Rozin considers that with smaller serving sizes people eat less (in terms of quantity, for instance, they do not help themselves to a second serving of the same food); this can be observed after only two weeks of implementing this scheme.

The French think of food as something to eat. Whereas Americans see food as something that can affect them and make them look fat. 

This is a good starting point to understand the phenomenon of obesity: small changes have to become part of people’s daily life and will make people feel in a constant state of wellbeing, because we all like enjoying a pleasurable state. 
“I think this problem is best handled through a free market economy.  Food companies responded to public interest in low fat foods and organic foods.  Now food companies in the United States are producing smaller serving sizes.  This is a much better solution than regulation”, Rozin asserted.