October 18, 2010
Use Cash, Not Cards, To Buy Better Food?

For those who fully embrace the the Paleo lifestyle this won't come as a shock: Credit and debit cards are so unnatural they cause us to make worse food buying choices as compared to buying with cash. Weird wild stuff.

People are more likely to buy unhealthy foods when they pay using credit or debit cards, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Two factors contribute to this intriguing effect," write authors Manoj Thomas (Cornell University), Kalpesh Kaushik Desai (State University of New York, Binghamton), and Satheeshkumar Seenivasan (State University of New York, Buffalo). "First, there is a correlation between unhealthiness and impulsiveness of food items: Unhealthy food items also tend to elicit impulsive responses. Second, cash payments are psychologically more painful than card payments, and this pain of payment can curb the impulsive responses to buy unhealthy food items."

This serves as a reminder: Our technological advances have enabled us to create environments that our instincts are not well adapted for. We need to make choices that make our environments better suited to our natures.

If spending money hurts then using cash will be especially effective in encouraging better food-buying behavior.

The authors conducted an analysis of actual shopping behavior of 1,000 households over a period of six months. They found that shopping carts had a larger proportion of food items rated as impulsive and unhealthy when shoppers used credit or debit cards versus cash. In follow-up studies they found that the vice-regulation effect of cash payment is due to the "pain" of paying in cash, and that the effect is stronger in consumers who are chronically more sensitive to the pain of payment.

Though if you can manage to use credit to buy Paleo Diet food and eat like Loren Cordain then you have managed to insulate yourself from at least one of the damaging effects of our credit culture.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 October 18 10:12 PM  Aging Diet Studies

Parker Bohn said at October 19, 2010 7:00 PM:

Does using a card make you more impulsive?
Or does being impulsive make you more likely to use a card? And to buy junk food?

In other words, an interesting correlation, but I'm not convinced of causation. I doubt switching payment methods would affect most people's shopping habits at all.

mattbg said at October 20, 2010 10:23 AM:

Wow, you mean healthy food isn't beyond the reach of most people's budgets like "progressives" so often claim and that unhealthy food is actually more expensive than healthy food?

Not that it was difficult to figure out, of course: a $2 bag of potato chips is an expensive way to buy half a pound of potatoes.

Randall Parker said at October 20, 2010 6:30 PM:

Parker Bohn,

Credit cards have certainly enabled more people to go into more debt than they can handle.

It is not so much that cards make people more impulsive. Rather, cards enable impulsive people to more easily act on their impulses.

David Gobel said at October 22, 2010 9:24 AM:

I believe the explosion of debt in the US and western world that started going ballistic in the early 80's - which ultimately replaced generational frugality and drive to independence of the depression and WWII generations - may be a (not *the*) major and strong cause of the obesity epidemic. Debt creates continuous and growingly extreme "virtual hierarchy stress" where one has multiple dominant lenders/mortgage-holders to whose tune one must dance, and where you never achieve independence...so that you must constantly/inexorably/stressfully scan the horizon for financial threats.

I have also been struck by the collapse of popularity of Western movies at almost the same time (80s). When I was a boy everyone wanted to be the rugged and totally independent John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Then, for some reasons, Westerns simply died as a dominant genre.

If this idea has merit, then one could simply test levels of debt with obesity and mortality/morbidity. One could even examine love of westerns, and low debt via Netflix profiles and equifax to see if there is a signal there. Another test would be to examine visceral obesity in relation to debt levels in and at the time of suicide attempts.

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