Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have determined that making people wait to get their desired snack can put them off and have them instead choose a healthier product that’s immediately available.

Because junk food is always available, people are more inclined to eat them to satisfy their cravings. Playing with patience allows helping people choose healthier products, as “having to wait for something makes it less desirable,” according to the study. Making people wait longer for unhealthy snacks may help vending machine owners maintain their earnings while also helping consumers be healthier.

Vending Machine, Snacks
Vending machines could help buyers make healthier choices. Image credit: Pioneering OOH

Do you want it? Then wait for it. Do you still want it?

According to previous research, humans prefer immediate gratification in almost all aspects of their life. This can be influenced to achieve a lasting effect in choices taken throughout daily life. On the other hand, there are over 1 million snack vending machines in the U.S., most of them filled with high-calorie products.

In the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers developed the DISC system, short for Delays to Improve Snack Choices. The system consists of a functional delay restriction that is set between healthy and unhealthy snacks.

Vending Machine, Snacks
Because snacks are pushed to consumers to encourage sales, and they are so easily available, researchers opted to determine how can people be directed to go with a healthier choice without restricting the purchase in general. Image credit:

When the consumer chooses an unhealthy snack, the system starts a 25-second countdown before releasing the product. The delay time is displayed on a LED screen, which allows the client to go instead with a healthier choice without having to wait.

The study included six vending machine restrictions to see how they would affect the consumer’s disposition to wait for their desired product. The first was a no intervention control trial, the second had a 25-second delay on less healthy snacks, the third had a 25-cent discount on healthy snacks, the fourth a 25-cent tax on unhealthy snacks, the fifth had the delay plus the discount, and the sixth had the delay plus the tax. Trials were held between June 2015 and August 2016.

Results showed a 2 to 5 percent increase in the purchase of healthy snacks over unhealthy ones. Furthermore, the delay did not act upon total sales or revenue, which ensures that the system will not harm the vending machine owner as its products are partially restricted.

“Our findings with the DISC vending machine system suggests that relatively brief time delays can nudge people to purchase healthier snacks at least some of the time. The beneficial effect on snack choice is about as large as that seen with discounts, but unlike discounts, time delays do not harm the total revenue of vending machines. This could be a viable option for vending machine owners to offer good, healthy snack options while keeping their sales and avoiding out-of-pocket costs,” stated lead researcher Brad Appelhans, Ph.D.

Getting what we want is not always simple

The instant gratification issue is perhaps the most influential factor that makes dieting so difficult. Frequently, having “just a snack” is enough to send us downhill when we are trying to curb our dietary habits. Furthermore, on a day-to-day basis, there are candy bars and chip bags waiting for us at the register, making it no less tempting to grab one of these guys on our way out.

One of the ways to understand instant gratification is to know where does it come from. Many people have grown accustomed to snacks and high-calorie meals being “treats.” They often serve as a way to cheer people up or as a reward for having done something. McDonald’s took advantage of this with their Happy Meals. This is an example of child conditioning, but it also represents how our bodies start to learn what makes them feel good at the right time. These behaviors carry on through life, remaining present as the child grows and becomes an adult.

Paleo Doritos
Paleo Doritos. Image credit: The Things We Make.

It is important to be always aware of what is being eaten. Just reaching out to get that candy bar is too easy and ill-advised, as it usually does more harm than good. It is also important to learn how to measure time, as researchers proved with the vending machine delay experiment. When eating a snack, try to understand how does it make you feel and if you were starving at first. Emotions are not always straightforward and easy to comprehend, but our bodies tend to act toward what they believe is the best, which is not always right. If something feels right, it does not necessarily mean that it’s good.

Enjoying the taste is also crucial. When opening a bag of chips, what’s usual is that the person will ravage through it in just a few minutes. Try tasting each chip individually and sense its condiments, textures, and its array of flavors. Perhaps taking more time between bites will allow people to enjoy healthier alternatives, seeing that they are not as heavily spiced as processed chips and snacks.

Source: EurekAlert