It may not help the restaurant's bottom line, but a recent study suggests that diners are happier and eat less in fast-food restaurants when the lighting and music go soft.

Study Details

"When we did a makeover of a fast-food restaurant, we found that softer music and lighting led diners to eat 175 fewer calories and enjoy it more," said study lead author, Brian Wansink, PhD, professor of marketing and director of the Food and Brand Lab, at Cornell University.

Simple Secret to Improving Health Habits

After tracking 204 adults who didn't eat well or exercise regularly, researchers found that the most effective way to improve the study participants' habits was to reduce their TV and computer time and have them eat more fruits and vegetables. Participants maintained healthier habits even after the three-week study ended.

Explanation: Focusing on just two simple changes is not overwhelming, and the behaviors reinforce each other.

The researchers found that people ate less775 calories instead of 949, or a decrease of 18%-thanks to the changes in the atmosphere. People also said they enjoyed their food more.

"These results suggest that a more relaxed environment increases satisfaction and decreases consumption," Dr. Wansink said. "This is important information for fast-food restaurants, which are often accused of contributing to obesity: Making simple changes away from brighter lights and sound-reflecting surfaces can go a long way toward reducing overeating-and increase their customers' satisfaction at the same time."

The findings were published in the journal Psychological Reports.

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