Children aren’t the only ones who should be able to enjoy Happy Meals, a new study from the University of Arizona suggests. That’s because adults also appear to enjoy incentive-based meals, like the ones McDonald’s and other companies created to make kids crave fast food.
The important component, researchers found, was the prize. Not surprisingly, it’s hard to outgrow the appeal of a gift.
In a series of experiments, both children and adults consistently chose a less caloric (a half portion of the original menu item) item when it came with a non-food item as a special gift.
The majority of a group of sixth graders, for example, chose half a sandwich and a pair of headphones over the full sandwich. In another experiment, university students and staff alike were offered the choice between a full lunch or half portions with the chance of winning either a $100 gift card or 10,000 frequent flier miles. Interestingly, subjects were more likely to choose the half portions when they were simply made aware that a prize could be won than when they were told the exact odds of winning a prize.
Most importantly, however, researchers noted that subjects who chose the half portions did not compensate for their lighter lunches by eating more later on. The behavior suggests that randomized prizes could be used by the restaurant industry to encourage healthier eating habits.