|Noisy Workplace causes women to overdo snacking, study finds.
By Tom Spears
OTTAWA - Women who have to work near loud, annoying office noise react by overeating - scarfing down popcorn, chocolate, potato chips, or whatever else they can get their hands on. Men don't, a new study has found. And the study found an extra quirk: The women do their extra snacking after the stress has passed, during a period of winding down.
The stressed-out women in the study were almost frantic snackers, says Laura Klein, who teaches behavioural health at Penn State University. "We saw people stubbing chunks of cheese with the pretzels, and making sandwiches out of potato chips with a piece of cheese between them. I couldn't believe the behaviours I was seeing. It was really funny," she said. They even asked for leftovers after the testing was done.
Stress makes people eat too much; that's been known for years. But Klein says this is the first test to see wether stress makes people eat more after the stressful period is over. "In daily life, people often rise to the occasion to deal with stress," she said. "The real window of vulnerability may be after the stress is over. For example, women exposed to a week of frustrating job stress could be especially vulnerable to overeating on the weekends." Worse, the women chose mostly sweet or high-fat snacks - the kind widely blamed for obesity and high blood pressure, and the kind for sale in office vending machines everywhere.
|In the experiments, 29 men and 34 women who thought they were in a study of how noise affects performance, were asked to solve math and geometry problems shown on slides. They were only allowed to see each slide for 10 seconds before the next slide appeared. It was an exercise designed to frustrate them. While the volunteers worked on their math, a loudspeaker near their seats would blast recorded office noise, such as phones ringing and peopole talking, very loudly and at unpredictable intervals. A separate group of volunteers did the same math problems with no noise, for comparison purposes.|
Then came the snack time. Each participant was left to sit alone in a room while an assistant brought in a snack tray and a pitcher of water. The snacks included pretzels, potato chips, sonoma Jack cheese, chocolate, jelly beans and popcorn (but with no salt or butter). The researchers left these snacks handy while they measured the volunteers' frustration level - a tricky test that involves asking them to trace a path through a maze on paper where in fact there are only dead ends. The sooner volunteers give up, the more frustrated they are - presumably after the experience of doing tough math problems with the loud office noises.
Their findings: Those women who quit early, and were therefore the most frustrated, were also the ones who scarfed down most of the snacks, says the study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Men did show one quirk. Those exposed to more noise as they did the math questions also plugged away longest at the problem with no solution, trying to find a way through the dead-end maze.
- Ottawa Citizen -The Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, May 26, 2004