How loud restaurants can lead to unhealthy eating choices

Think twice about jamming out to loud music while dining.

 / Source: TODAY

By Erica Chayes Wida

Enjoying a meal over a little melodious clamor can be a wonderful part of dining out. But it turns out the volume of that tune may play a role in what we order — and it could be bad for our waistlines.

In a recent study conducted by Dipayan Biswas, PhD, marketing professor at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business, researchers found that diners made very different food choices based on the music they could hear.

According to the study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences, volume is proven to impact heart rate and arousal. Naturally, louder music ignites excitement, stimulation and stress while softer sounds have a calming affect. Diners who were exposed to louder noises ordered foods that were significantly higher in calories, while those who were listening to softer music routinely made more health-conscious choices. 

"Music has an effect on our physiological system," Biswas told TODAY Food. "You are more likely to start dancing with loud music. [A] higher excitement level translates to choosing unhealthier foods."

To perform the main part of the study, Biswas and his team took over a cafe in Stockholm, Sweden, for several days to conduct their study among hundreds of subjects. As patrons perused menus coded into "healthy," "unhealthy" and "neutral" (like coffee and tea) choices, researchers played the same playlist with a mix of contemporary rock, pop music and classical tunes in a loop for several hours. On some days, they played songs at 55 decibels and on other days they pumped up the jams to 70 decibels.

When Biswas reviewed the cafe sales, he found that 20 percent more customers ordered high-calorie foods when the music volume was high, regardless of what song was playing.

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