How to lower obesity, fatten wallet, at Chinese buffets

The costs of obesity are enormous, and not just in health care costs, such as increasing medication expenses 77% for someone who is obese.

Along with emotional and social effects, obesity can affect your wallet. Obese men and women earn, on average, $7,093, or about 25% less than their peers.

One American passion commonly blamed for obesity are the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets, or any type of buffet that lets customers eat as much as they want. Sure, they can be cheap and save you money on dining, but in the long-term, overeating at such places can be hazardous to your physical and financial health.

Two researchers recently studied eating behaviors at all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets, and found methods that skinnier people use, such as using chopsticks, and habits of heavier people, such as sitting facing the buffet.

The conclusion by researchers Brian Wansink and Collin Payne that "small changes in one's environment may lessen one's tendency to overeat."

Their work found correlations between high body mass index, or BMI, and behaviors at the buffets.

Here are some of the things they found that any buffet eater may want to keep in mind at their next visit:

  • Sit in a booth. Low BMI patrons were more likely to sit at a booth, versus a table. Booth seating makes it more difficult to return to the buffet because eating companions may need to move or heavier patrons may not comfortably fit in a booth.
  • Don't sit facing the buffet. More high BMI patrons faced the buffet while eating than low BMI patrons. If you're sitting with your side or back to the buffet line, the tempting food won't be at the top of your mind.
  • Browse first. Most low BMI patrons browsed the buffet instead of immediately serving themselves.
  • Use small plates. This comes as no surprise, but high BMI patrons were more likely to use larger plates.
  • Use chopsticks. The lighter customers used chopsticks to eat with more often. Apparently a fork is like a shovel in a buffet line.
  • Keep a napkin on your lap. Lower BMI patrons put a napkin on their lap
  • Don't feel you have to clean your plate. I know your grandmother probably told you to always clean your plate, but this study found that the low BMI patrons left more on their plates than others.
  • Chew your food well. Low BMI patrons chewed bites of food more than others, at 14.8 chews per bite.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at
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