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Colour as a cue to eat: effects of plate colour on snack intake in pre-school children

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Sharon A Carstairs, Samantha Caton, Marion Hetherington, Barbara Rolls, Joanne E. Cecil

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Environmental cues, such as the colour of food and dishware, have been shown to influence food and drink consumption in adult populations. This proof of concept study investigated whether plate colour could be utilised as a strategy to reduce intake of high energy density (HED) snacks and increase intake of low energy density (LED) snacks in pre-school children. In a between and within-subjects design, children were randomly assigned to either a control group (no colour message) or intervention group (received a colour message: red = stop, green = go) and were provided a snack at nursery on three occasions on differently coloured plates (red, green, white), for each snack type (HED, LED). Snack intake, colour preference, colour association, and anthropometrics were recorded for each child. The results showed that there was no effect of group (control vs intervention) on HED (p=0.540) and LED intake (p=0.575). No effect of plate colour on HED (p=0.147) or LED snack intake (p=0.505) was evident. Combining red and green plates for a chromatic versus achromatic comparison showed that there was no significant effect of chromatic plate on HED (p=0.0503) and LED (p=0.347) intakes. Despite receiving a brief learning intervention, the use of plate colour was found in the present study to be an ineffective strategy to control snack food intake in pre-school aged children. Rather, we suggest that food intake in young children may best be predicted by portion size, energy density and eating behaviour traits


Original languageEnglish
Article number103862
JournalFood Quality and Preference
VolumeIn press
Early online date2 Dec 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2019

    Research areas

  • Colour, Food intake, Children, Visual cue, Dishware

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  1. Snack portion sizes for preschool children are predicted by caregiver portion size, caregiver feeding practices and children's eating traits

    Reale, S., Simpson, R., Marr, C., Carstairs, S. A., Cecil, J. E., Hetherington, M. & Caton, S., 10 Dec 2019, In: Nutrients. 11, 2, p. 1-17 17 p., 3020.

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    Carstairs, S. A., Caton, S. J., Blundell-Birtill, P., Rolls, B. J., Hetherington, M. M. & Cecil, J. E., 3 Dec 2018, In: Nutrients. 10, 12, 15 p., 1879.

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  3. The feasibility and acceptability of two methods of snack portion control in United Kingdom (UK) preschool children: reduction and replacement

    Reale, S., Kearney, C., Hetherington, M., Croden, F., Cecil, J. E., Carstairs, S. A., Rolls, B. & Caton, S., 12 Oct 2018, In: Nutrients. 10, 10, 25 p., 1493.

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  4. Downsizing meal items in pre-schoolers using variety

    Cecil, J. E., Carstairs, S., Caton, S., Blundell-Birtill, P., Rolls, B. & Hetherington, M. M., 1 Apr 2018, In: Appetite. 123, p. 460

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Related by journal

  1. Food Quality and Preference (Journal)

    Sharon Ann Carstairs (Reviewer)

    2018 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial work typesPeer review of manuscripts

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