Brian Wansink

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Brian Wansink
Born June 28, 1960
Sioux City, Iowa
Fields Consumer behavior, nutritional science, marketing
Institutions USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Food and Brand Lab, Cornell University
Known for Food behavior and psychology
Notable awards ABC World News Person of the Week(January 4) 2008; Fitness magazine's "Fit 50" 2008; Ig Nobel Prize, 2007

Brian Wansink (born 1960) is an American professor in the fields of consumer behavior and nutritional science. He is a former Executive Director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) (2007–2009), and now holds the John S. Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University, where he is director of the Food and Brand Lab.

Wansink is best known for his work on consumer behavior and food and for popularizing terms such as "mindless eating" and "health halos." He is the author of over 100 academic articles and books, including the best-selling books Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (2007) and Slim by Design (2014). He received the 2007 humorous Ig Nobel Prize and was named ABC World News Person of the Week[1] on January 4, 2008.


Wansink was born in Sioux City, Iowa. He received a B.S. from Wayne State College (Nebraska) in 1982 and an M.A. from Drake University in 1984., followed by a Ph.D. in Consumer behaviour in 1990 from Stanford University,

He was a Marketing Professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College (1990–1994) and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (1995–1997), and he was a Marketing, Nutritional Science, Advertising, and Agricultural Economics Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1997–2005) before moving to Cornell University (2005 to date). He has also been a Visiting Professor at the Vrije Universiteit (Amsterdam) and Insead (Fountainbleau, France), and he was a Visiting Research Scientist at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick, MA) where he helped design ways to improve the acceptability and consumption of MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) for the United States Army.[citation needed]

Wansink founded the Food and Brand Lab in 1997 at the University of Illinois and the Consumer Education Foundation in 1999. In 2005 he moved both to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York where he founded the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

In 2007, Wansink released the NY-Times best-selling book Mindless Eating.

From 2007-2009, Wansink had a leave of absence from Cornell to accept a White House appointment as the fourth Executive Director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, where he oversaw the development of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, the Healthy Eating Index, and the Cost of Raising a Child Index. He was also charged with promoting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, in the form of MyPyramid.

In 2011, Wansink was elected to a one-year-term as president of the Society for Nutrition Education. He also launched and co-directs the Smarter Lunchroom Movement which is currently active in 29,000 schools around the US.

In 2014, Wansink released the book Slim by Design and also launched the Global Healthy Weight Registry. The Global Health Weight Registry helps to discover how perpetually slim people have avoided gaining weight in an effort to provide potentially useful lessons for the majority of the population.[2]


A consumer psychologist, Wansink is best known for his work on food psychology and eating behavior. This work focuses on how the environment leads or even tricks people into buying and eating food in ways they are unaware. While some of these insights are directed toward responsible food manufacturers and marketers,[3] the majority are focused specifically at parents, dieters, and at the medical and nutrition community. Using a combination of lab studies and field studies, he has used movie popcorn, refillable soup bowls, bartender glasses, candy dishes, Chinese buffets, and ice cream socials to show how various environment cues influence the food intake of unknowing consumers.[4] Although such environmental factors appear unrelated, they generally influence intake by inhibiting consumption monitoring and by suggesting alternative consumption norms.[5]

In contrast to focusing on the macro-food environment as being the cause of the American obesity problem, Wansink's work focuses on the intermediate micro-environment that he contends people can control—their home and their daily habits. In counterpoint to social criticism of the obesigenic nature of our "foodscape," recent work has focused on the more promising changes that can be made in what Wansink refers to as the obesigenic nature of our "kitchenscapes" and "tablescapes."[6]

The studies from the lab have been credited with the development of the 100 calorie packs and the Small Plate Movement, as well as quantifying a wide range of basic insights:

  • Moving from a 12-inch to a 10-inch dinner plate leads people to serve and eat 22% less.[7]
  • A person will eat an average of 92% of any food they serve themselves.[8]
  • The average person makes in excess of 250 decisions about food each day.[9]
  • Low-fat labels lead people to eat 16-23% more total calories.[10]
  • The Nutritional Gatekeeper of a home influences an estimated 72% of all of the food their family eats.[11]
  • Because of visual illusions, people (even professional bartenders) pour 28% more into a short wide glasses than tall ones.[12]
  • 50% of the snack food bought in bulk (such as at a warehouse club store) is eaten within six days of purchase.[13]

In examining the range of what is referred to as "mindless eating," Wansink has made contributions to three principal areas of food-related consumption: consumption norms, taste evaluation, and food selection.

Ig Nobel Prize[edit]

The Bottomless Bowl Principle

Brian Wansink is a 2007 recipient of the Ig Nobel Prize in Nutrition. The Ig Nobel prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prize and are awarded for achievements (or sometimes veiled criticisms thereof) that "first make people laugh, and then make them think." Wansink's award was issued for investigating people's appetite for mindless eating by secretly feeding them a self-refilling bowl of soup in the Bottomless Soup Bowl Study. It has come to be known as the Bottomless Bowl Principle.[14]



  1. ^ "Brian Wansink, 'Nutrition Swami' - ABC News". 2008-01-04. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  2. ^ Khazan, Olga. "Skinny People Don't Diet". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-02-21. 
  3. ^ Marketing Nutrition – Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology, and Obesity, Champaign (2005), Brian Wansink, Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.
  4. ^ Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (2006), Brian Wansink New York: Bantam-Dell.
  5. ^ "Environmental Factors that Increase the Food Intake and Consumption Volume of Unknowing Consumers," (2004) Annual Review of Nutrition, Brian Wansink, Volume 24, 455–479.
  6. ^ “Kitchenscapes, Tablescapes, Platescapes, and Foodscapes: Influences of Microscale Built Environments on Food Intake, Environment and Behavior," (2007) Environment and Behavior, Jeffery Sobal and Brian Wansink, 39:1 (January), 124-42.
  7. ^ "The Perils of Plate Size: Waist, Waste, and Wallet (2008), Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum, Journal of Marketing (under advanced review).
  8. ^ "Super Bowls: Serving Bowl Size and Food Consumption," (2005) JAMA – Journal of the American Medical Association, Brian Wansink and Matthew M. Cheney, 293:14 (April 13), 1727–1728.
  9. ^ “Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook,” (2007) Environment and Behavior, Brian Wansink and Jeffrey Sobal, 39:1 (January), 106-23.
  10. ^ "Can Low-Fat Nutrition Labels Lead to Obesity? (2006), Brian Wansink and Pierre Chandon, Journal of Marketing Research 43:4 (November), 605-17..
  11. ^ "Nutritional Gatekeepers and the 72% Solution,” (2006) Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Brian Wansink 106:9 (September), 1324–1327
  12. ^ "Shape of Glass and Amount of Alcohol Poured: Comparative Study of Effect of Practice and Concentration," (2005) BMJ – British Medical Journal, Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum, 331:7531 (December 24) 1512–1514.
  13. ^ "When are Stockpiled Products Consumed Faster? A Convenience-Salience Framework of Post-purchase Consumption Incidence and Quantity," (2002) Journal of Marketing Research, Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink, 39:3 (August), 321–335.
  14. ^ [1]
  • "Bringing Nutrition Home" by Sally Squires Washington Post, 2-12-08, F-1+
  • "I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing" by Patricia Volk, O: The Oprah Magazine, 11-06, pp. 229–233.
  • "Just Put Your Mind to It" by Nanci Hellmich USA Today, 10-11-06, p. 5D
  • "Seduced By Snacks? No, Not You" by Kim Severson New York Times, 10-11-06, pp. D1+.
  • "The Wizard of Why" by Robin Jenkins Mather Chicago Tribune, 3-30-05, Section 7, pp 1+

External links[edit]