Are open plan kitchens making us eat more?

Tuesday, 13 September, 2016

US researchers have found that the dining environment can have significant impact on eating behaviour.

Kim Rollings, assistant professor in the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, and Nancy Wells, an environmental psychologist from Cornell University, conducted a study with 57 college students in the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell.

The results, published in the journal Environment and Behavior, suggest that the openness of a floor plan, among many other factors, can affect how much we eat.

The study made use of folding screens to manipulate the arrangement of kitchen and dining areas during the service of buffet-style meals and two-way mirrors for the unobtrusive observation of variously sized groups of student diners.

“The results of our study suggest that eating in an ‘open concept kitchen’, with greater visibility and convenience of food access, can set off a chain reaction. We’re more likely to get up and head toward the food more often, serve more food and eat more food,” Rollings said.

Rollings observed that each time college students in the study got up to get more food, they ended up eating an average of 711 more kJ in the ‘open’ than in the ‘closed’ floor plan kitchen.

“Considering that decreasing calorie consumption by 200 to 418 kJ per day can reduce or avoid the average annual weight gain of 0.5 to 1 kg among US adults,” she said, “these results have important implications for designers of and consumers in residential kitchens; college, workplace and school cafeterias and dining areas; and buffet-style restaurants.”

In the past, many home kitchens were separate, enclosed spaces, purely functional and not intended for entertaining. “Now, open-concept plans put kitchens on display, which is great for entertaining, but not necessarily for our waistlines. Serving food out of sight from diners in an open kitchen, serving food from a counter in a closed kitchen rather than from a dining table and creating open kitchens that have the ability to be enclosed may help US adults maintain their weight,” said Rollings.

Rollings said that the study findings have important implications for college and university students, as well as those who need to eat in healthcare, group home and military settings.

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