National News

Health and Fitness News and Notes

Posted June 4, 2018 11:25 p.m. EDT

Want Cake? Blame the Music

Trendy restaurants that amp up the music generate mixed feelings in diners, attracting some and repelling others. Now there’s evidence that loud background music affects patrons’ food choices — and not in a good way.

Behavioral scientists who ran a series of lab studies and real-life field experiments found participants selected more unhealthful or calorie-laden items like red meat and cake when the ambient music was loud, and were more likely to choose healthful items when softer music was played in the background.

The genre of music did not appear to influence the choices, the researchers said: They found the same effects whether the background music was classical; a mix of pop, rock, soul, R&B and alternative music; or heavy metal.

“High-volume music is more exciting and makes you physically more excited, less inhibited and more likely to choose something indulgent,” said Dipayan Biswas, a professor of business and of marketing at University of South Florida in Tampa and lead author of the paper, published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. “Low music makes us more relaxed and more mindful, and more likely to go for the things that are good for us in the long run.”

One field study in Sweden, conducted in a cafe in Stockholm, played the same playlist at 55 decibels (typical restaurant conversation) on one weekday and at 70 decibels (the level of a vacuum cleaner) on another weekday. When the volume was high, 52 percent of the orders were unhealthful, and only 25 percent were considered healthful. When the music was low, only 42 percent of orders were for unhealthful food, and 31 percent of food items were deemed healthful (some food and beverages were considered neutral).

Loud background music in a supermarket similarly nudged customers toward less healthful purchases, compared with softer music.

In a lab experiment, students were exposed to loud or soft classical music and then asked to choose between fruit salad or chocolate cake. When the music was high, 56 percent chose fruit salad; when the volume was low, 86 percent chose the fruit salad.

Biswas, whose earlier research found that patrons are more likely to order healthful items when restaurants are brightly lit and more likely to indulge in dimly lit restaurants, said the findings can help consumers be aware of unconscious factors affecting their choices. “It’s not entirely a conscious decision to order something that’s high calorie,” he said. “Sometimes, when the music is loud, you just go for the chips.”

Cinnamon May Be Safe in Foods, but Is It Safe in E-Cigarettes?

A common cinnamon food additive that is widely used to flavor e-cigarettes had harmful effects on human lung cells in a laboratory culture, disrupting the cells’ innate host defense system, scientists report.

The compound, called cinnamaldehyde, gives cinnamon its characteristic flavor and smell and is generally considered safe when added to food. But like many chemicals in e-cigarette emissions, it has not been thoroughly evaluated for safety when inhaled rather than ingested, said Phillip Clapp, who recently completed his doctorate in the lab of Dr. Ilona Jaspers, deputy director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology.

The researchers exposed cultured human bronchial cells to diluted cinnamon e-liquids and to e-liquid aerosol, or vapor, from an e-cigarette device purchased at a local vape shop in Chapel Hill. A single exposure impaired the function of the cells’ cilia, important hairlike projections whose back-and-forth movements clear mucus and pathogens from the lungs.

Anything that impairs the motion of the cilia can predispose the lungs to respiratory infections. After a single exposure of the cells to e-cigarette liquid or aerosol containing cinnamaldehyde, “the cilia motion came to a complete stop,” Jaspers said.

“That makes the defensive barrier of the lung less effective and more vulnerable to anything you inhale,” potentially increasing susceptibility to respiratory infections and other lung diseases, Clapp said.

“E-cigarettes are widely believed to be less toxic than tobacco cigarettes, but there’s really no data out there that they are or are not — that’s just an assumption, a belief,” Jaspers said. “We need to go back and re-educate people that they may not be without harm.”

The findings of the research, which have not yet been published, were presented at the international conference of the American Thoracic Society in San Diego in May.