Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (4)

Why Is McDonald’s Yellow? The Role Of Environment On Eating Behavior

Photo of a Hamburger and fries

I’m grateful to the Happy Hospitalist for pointing out that color matters when it comes to food consumption. As it turns out, blue light can be an appetite suppressant. And I actually know about this first hand.

I helped to design a research study in connection with Architectural Digest and the Parsons School of Design several years ago. I was a volunteer instructor for a hospital design course in NYC, and wanted to show the students that lighting could influence eating patterns. As it happened, there was a big gala event at a local convention center, and so I worked with my friend Shashi Caan to set up three identical rooms bathed in three different colored lights (yellow, blue, and red).

We had all the gala attendees dress up in white bunny suits (you know, the kind you let patients wear in the OR) and shuttled them through the 3 rooms at regular intervals. The rooms could each hold about 40 guests and copious identical hors d’oeurves were offered.

Guess what we found? The most food was consumed in the yellow room, followed by red, and then a distant third was blue. About 33% fewer snacks were consumed in the blue room during the event (and yes we controlled the number of people in each room so they’d be equal). I found this quite fascinating, but unfortunately never published the results. You see, I didn’t receive IRB approval for any of it.

But the experiment did leave an indelible impression on my mind. As I thought about it, I realized that most fast food restaurants have yellowish interiors. From the golden arches to the lighting – companies like McDonald’s probably recognized (long before I did) that color influences purchasing and eating behavior.

Yep, I’m late to this party – and I’m not painting my kitchen yellow.


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


4 Responses to “Why Is McDonald’s Yellow? The Role Of Environment On Eating Behavior”

  1. Vijay says:

    Does that mean it will help me eat less and lose weight if I paint my kitchen & dining room blue? Or should I ask my wife to add Indigo food dye to all the food that she cooks? ;)

  2. drval says:

    Actually, yes. I’d be willing to bet that putting a blue light in your fridge would make the food appear much more unappetizing to you. Can’t hurt… might help! :)

  3. Strong One says:

    This is likened to ‘sensation transference’ which is used and abused in the retail market.
    How ironic.

  4. Art says:

    While this effect has implications for how much food you consume, and so weight control, McDonald’s and Burger King had slightly different goals.

    Their interest was to increase the amount of food ordered, not necessarily consumed, and to foster a slight sense of unease that motivated people to leave, so fuller wallets could enter, shortly after ordering. Which determines the ratio of yellow to red, how comfortable the seats are, lighting, and the music selection.

    These companies would prefer it if you didn’t actually enter. Drive through orders are more efficient because there is no dining room or bathroom use. Another bonus is that take-outs don’t deposit their trash there. A substantial labor and cost savings. This countered by the practical limit on the number of lanes and the slightly slower pace. Counter service can have more ‘lanes’, extracts money a bit faster, and so handles surges better.

    In a world run by these companies people would do away with the food side entirely and simply open the door to toss in money before leaving empty handed. I’m pretty sure these corporations have someone working toward that.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

***

Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

Read more »

See all book reviews »