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Friday, October 15, 2010

Is Background Noise Why We Overeat?

How much money does noise cost us? It rattles my sanity. Excess sound or unwanted sound is noise pollution. Pollution always costs us something. I may pay with rattled nerves. Some may pay with horrendous eating habits that cost them their health and drive up their medical bills.

Many people in the US overeat salty and sugary foods. Could background noise be part of the problem? A research project (technical) reports that people perceive taste in different ways according to background noise or lack of it. None of the articles mentioned overeating as a consequence of our changed perception when the background is noisy as we eat.

I wonder. If louder noise reduced the reported sweetness or saltiness (reported in a more accessible manner), could this be why we overeat? Our eating lives are played out against the background of cafeteria noise (think highschool), traffic noise (think workers who eat outside on the job or in a plant with machinery), in front of the television, in bars with blaring football games or music, or maybe just to our own preferred music. Our body may require more sugary and salty foods to overcome the effect of louder noise. Yes, even our favorite music and quality music of your preference can be the background noise that interferes with our ability to taste sweet and salty.

Fast food establishments are not bastions of tranquility. Maybe we need a bit more sugar and salt to help us really taste the food. That spells disaster for the body.

The subjects ate to white noise in the background. That even further amplifies the point. The background noise was not distressing sounds or jarring music not to their taste. However, I wonder if "noise" is just sound that is dissonant, unpleasant, or undesired. In that case would a teen's favorite cacophony be considered "noise" to the research? I doubt it.

What if a person lived in an area of wailing sirens, gunfire, arguments, or traffic noise? Often these area are where low income persons must live. They may not be afforded the luxury of a peaceful environment. Could these distractions in the background, along with poverty be the reason for highly salted and sweetened food that lead to health problems. Am I going down a slippery slope?

I don't have television; I live in a serene neighborhood, don't eat in fast food places, and never have to eat in a cafeteria or work environment. Often I can eat in the yard where birds, my hens, and trees rustling are the only sounds. Do you think they count as disruptive background noise? I wonder. Yeah, I doubt it.

Think of it--cloth tablecloths and napkins would have a dampening effect on noise. Expensive places with pleasant ambience are usually hushed, and the music, if any, is very low. Carpets are in place instead of the tile at inexpensive McD's. Noise dampening elements--real wood, carpets, drapes, cushioned chairs, and linens--are rarely found in fast food or greasy spoons. Are they? Not in my neck of the woods!

Do you think the hum of my refrigerator is background noise that alters my perception of taste? From now on, I will monitor my desire for sweeter or saltier food in a noisy atmosphere.

What are your thoughts on your eating/dining environments and your perception of taste? Where do you prefer to eat? Have you noticed you over-season with salt or sugar when the dining experience is accompanied by background noise? Do you agree with the research? Am I off-base in suggesting noise can make us gain weight?

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