Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Coffee shops told to stop selling calorie-rich cakes

Public Health England (PHE) has criticised coffee shops for pushing customers to buy snacks.

They are working with the food industry to reduce the sugar content of foods in shops and are now looking at food eaten outside the home. Chief nutritionist Alison Teddistone said “Coffee shops have got a long way to go”

A muffin adds about 400 calories to an order. Just because it has a healthy sounding name it’s still part of the problem, she says, with all the little nudges to buy extras.

Major coffee chains have committed publicly to reducing sugar and now it is time for all to raise their game. More action is needed to tackle obesity”.

PHE has set a target for cafés restaurants and coffee shops to reduce sugar in their everyday products by 20% by 2020. They are also concerned about takeaway deliveries who are doing a Facebook and saying they are “only connecting people”.  The government is also keen for restaurants, cafés and take-aways to list calories on their menus.

The WHO has warned this week that the UK was the 5th out of 176 nations for cancer linked to obesity. That is truly a shocking statistic, especially for an advanced country like the UK.

PHE said people know smoking is linked to cancer but don’t realise obesity is also increasing the risk of cancer (and diabetes and stroke).

FYI

  • Costa Coffee Blueberry muffin = 434 calories with 25.7 g of sugar
  • Costa Coffee bonfire spiced hot chocolate whole milk = 311 calories with36.5 g of sugar
  • Starbucks skinny blueberry muffin = 312 calories with 24 g of sugar
  • Starbucks venti oat vanilla latte = 438 calories with 52.2 g of sugar
  • Caffe Nero blueberry-filled muffin = 418 calories with 29.1 g of sugar

NHS advises only 30 g of sugar per day

This is all very well but perhaps if people exercised more then they could enjoy these treats in moderation.

And I’ve previously posted about Costa Coffee’s decision to impose semi-skimmed milk on customers without warning or having signs anywhere. They say it’s for health reasons yet still encourage people to have syrup, marshmallows and chocolate logs in their coffee. How hypocritical is that?

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Full fat fiasco at Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee used to be my favourite coffee shop. I went in most days for a large cappuccino or more recently flat whites.

But since they became health fascists trying to dictate what kind of milk we have I am falling out of love with them.

A few weeks ago a barista mentioned that they would only be serving semi-skinned milk in future, except for the flat white family which would still have full fat, whole milk.

They are doing this by stealth. There are no signs anywhere explaining their new policy. What happened to transparency and honesty?

I tweeted (the first of several) complaints to @CostaCoffee to be told by Natalia that there had been demand for semi-skimmed from customers and team members. Well Costa team members shouldn’t be dictating what customers want and many of us want whole milk.

Since then trying to get a coffee with whole milk has proved difficult and sometimes impossible.

Family members have experienced difficulty at several stores  – Haslingden Tesco, Burnley Tesco, and Rawtenstall and Accrington Costa shops. I reported this to Costa to be told they were still adjusting delivery levels.

Well this morning they hadn’t done a very good job as after queuing for my flat white, I checked they had whole milk, to be told they hadn’t because head office hadn’t sent enough. So I walked out.

Sometimes staff miraculously find some as we walk away. Sometimes staff are borderline rude about our asking for it as if they know best.

They say it’s part of a health drive. Don’t make me laugh! This country has an obesity problem and the coffee culture has a lot to answer for apparently.

People are drinking more elaborate coffees (you with the syrup and the whipped cream for example) and have cakes on the side. Lots and lots of calories. And Costa is no different.When asked why they still serve people with sugary syrups and the like they say “those are extras”.

Milk provides a lot of nutrients — including a few that most people don’t get enough of, like vitamin D. Calcium is important for kids and teenagers who are still building bone and for adults who need to maintain the bone they have.

Although it’s lower in fat and calories, semi-skimmed milk also has lower levels of fat-soluble vitamins, including A and E, than whole milk, so children and grown-ups might be missing out on nutrition

Research from America found that people who drink whole milk have a lower risk of diabetes than those who don’t.

The 15-year-long study by Tufts University looked at 3,333 people aged between 30 and 75. The researchers found that people with high levels of three different by-products of full-fat dairy in their bodies had a 46% lower risk of diabetes mellitus than those who had low levels of dairy fat.

Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, whose findings were published in the journal Circulation, told Time:  “I think these findings, together with those from other studies do call for a change in the policy of recommending only low-fat dairy products. There is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy.”

As a psychologist I wonder if they are taking advantage of something called moral licensing. This is a phenomenon that causes people to overeat by giving them permission to indulge, the psychological tendency to indulge ourselves in one area of our life when we’re being good in another. 

The phenomenon accounts for why many runners gain weight while training for a race. They expend more calories during their runs, but by rewarding themselves with indulgences throughout their day like an insulin-spiking post-workout “sports drink,” they ultimately negate many of the health benefits of exercise.

Some studies found participants who believed multivitamin pills provided significant health benefits also exercised less, were less likely to choose healthy food, and smoked more.

So having a skinny decaff latte (can you actually call that coffee?) doesn’t justify that syrup and whipped cream you are adding to it, and the sticky bun on the side.

Costa should rethink this policy. They are still selling syrup, whipped cream, marshmallows etc so they aren’t really serious about the health issues.

Furthermore they are foisting this on people unknowingly – not very honest. Why haven’t they put up signs or posted it on their web-sites?

There are half a dozen other coffee shops in the town centre. Costa shouldn’t take customers for granted.


Charging more for coffee would reduce waste

Many coffee shops such as Costa and Starbucks offer 25p discounts if you use a re-usable cup.

And that’s a great advance in reducing the number sent to landfill sites.

However researchers at Cardiff University have found that offering this discount had no effect.

But charging an additional 25p per cup increased the usage of re-useable cups by 3.4%

And if you displayed environmentally friendly messages and provided some free re-useable cups the use of such cups increased by 12%.

This is a good demonstration of behavioural economics. People are more sensitive to losses than gains when making decisions. Charging 25p more is seen as a loss and people are more sensitive to that than saving the same amount.

If we really want to change a customer’s behaviour then a charge on a disposable cup is more likely to be effective” said the author of the research report.

Many people might find it difficult to remember to take a re-useable cup with them. I have one in my car but hardly ever use even when visiting Costa at my local Tesco (partly because I don’t think Cappuccino travels well).

Last year Starbucks temporarily doubled the discount to 50p but it only increased the use of re-useable cups by 0.2% up to 1.2%.

After the success of charging people for plastic bags in shops it’s worth considering a similar move with coffee cups.


A Storm in a coffee cup

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Slide1after the Times revealed last week that only 1 in 400 takeaway cups were being recycled.

Simply Cups – which runs the only UK cup recycling service – said that only 3 million cups were recycled last year (expected to double this year) but 7 million cups are used each day.

The four biggest coffee chains in the UK; Costa, Starbucks, Caffé Nero and Pret a Manger, all make claims about recycling or suggest that they are environmentally friendly.

Costa uses the recycling symbol (see photo) although Pret and Caffé Nero only have it on their cardboard sleeves. Starbucks’ website says it wants to make 100% of its cups recyclable by 2015.

The Environment Minister has suggested a tax on coffee to reduce waste and litter along the same lines as the tax on plastic bags which worked (Tesco reduced disposable bag usage by 80% in two months). This is not…

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