Comfort eating is on the rise due to the recession, psychologists believe.
Experts fear people are more likely to pile on the pounds in a downturn because they seek out high-calorie foods to escape their misery.
The findings come at a time when more than 60% of the adult Irish population are overweight or obese.
Researchers in the US also found that people are more likely to tuck into fatty snacks than healthier alternatives if they believe food resources are scarce.
The study, which has just been published in the journal Psychological Science, involved participants taste-testing new M&M sweets.
Half the study subjects were given a bowl of the sweets and were told that the secret ingredient was a new, high-calorie chocolate.
The rest of the participants received exactly the same bowl of M&Ms, but were told the new chocolate was low-calorie.
Study leader Juliano Laran, of the University of Miami school of business administration, found that those who were subconsciously primed to think about struggle and adversity ate nearly 70% more of the “high-calorie” M&Ms than the “low-calorie” option.
Prof Laran said the findings could have positive implications for individuals in the healthcare field, campaigns on nutrition, and companies promoting wellness.
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