Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Death Row and What We Can Learn from Last Meals

This doesn't have anything to do with feeding kids, but as a former criminologist, I found this study fascinating.

247 people were executed between 2002 and 2006.  

  • 21% declined a last meal.
  • One person requested a single pitted olive.
  • The average number of calories for last meals was 2756, but 4 meals were estimated to be 7200 calories or more. 
  • One person requested 12 pieces of fried chicken, two rolls with butter, two sodas, one pint of strawberry ice cream, one pint of vanilla ice cream and mashed potatoes with gravy.

According to this study, when celebrities and famous chefs speak hypothetically about their last meal, the food often revolves around steak and seafood. In contrast, when inmates get ready for their real last meal they order:

  • Chicken (37%)
  • Hamburger (24%)
  • Steak (22%)
  • Pork/Bacon (17%)
  • Fish/seafood (8%)

Pizza was requested for only 5% of the meals.

The researchers were surprised to find that nuts appear in only 1 out of 193 meals for which they obtained descriptions.

And no one requested yogurt, tofu or a vegetarian meal.  (I'm not surprised. Are you?)

When it comes to dessert:

  • Ice cream and pie were the most popular desserts.
  • Cake was the next most popular dessert.
  • Nobody ordered a chocolate bar but 17% asked for chocolate in the form of milk, malt, pudding, ice cream, cake, brownies, fudge and cookies.

The authors note that chocolate is a food people turn to when coping with stressful situations. I think the researchers are reading too much into it. The inmates probably ordered chocolate because it tastes good.

Other interesting facts:

  • Alcohol is not permitted as part of a last meal.
  • Inmates in Texas and Oklahoma requested, and received, 750-1000 more calories than people in other states.
  • Only 4% of the requests were for a branded fast food meal such as McDonald's, but most people requested a specific brand of soda. (Coke topped the list, followed by Pepsi and then Dr. Pepper.)

What do the authors conclude?

People opt for comfort food in stressful situations.

That includes: 

  • Combat soldiers
  • College freshmen
  • People living in rough, inner city neighborhoods

And this raises an interesting point. Scaring people who are obese with the prospect of death in order to encourage positive eating might be a strategy that backfires.

People who are about to die have no incentive to eat healthily. In fact, the researchers say, "[O]ur study of last meals suggests that drawing attention to death has the potential to invite overconsumption of food..."

So don't try to scare your kids into eating their spinach? I'm sorry, but I can't find a tie-in. Anyone out there want to give it a try?

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Wansink, B., K. M. Kniffin, and M. Shimizu. 2012. “Death Row Nutrition. Curious Conclusions of Last Meals.” Appetite 59: 837-43.

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Reader Comments (2)

great post. I thought more about myself than my toddler on this one... I know I stress eat.

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAurora

And this is surely stress eating! In terms of parenting, though, the question is: are you teaching your toddler not to stress eat?


December 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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