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Looking to Lose Weight? Pay With Cash!

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Here are two seemingly unrelated bits of trivia about your friends and neighbors: they’re overweight and they use credit cards.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2007-2008, 72.5 million adults in the U.S. were obese. Additionally, these well-fed men and women increasingly like to pay with credit cards: The Nilson Report projects that the share of such paper-free payments will reach 64% of total payments by 2013.

Turns out, there might a relationship at work here.

From the introduction of a new research paper in the Journal of Consumer Research:

“The pain of paying in cash can curb impulsive urges to purchase such unhealthy food products. Credit card payments, in contrast, are relatively painless and weaken impulse control. Consequently, consumers are more likely to buy unhealthy food products when they pay by credit card than when they pay in cash.”

The authors analyzed the shopping behavior of 1,000 households over a period of six months, which revealed that shopping baskets have a larger proportion of food items rated as impulsive and unhealthy when shoppers use credit or debit cards to pay for the purchases.

“Two factors contribute to this intriguing effect,” the authors write. “First, there is a correlation between unhealthiness and impulsiveness of food items: Unhealthy food items also tend to elicit impulsive responses. Second, cash payments are psychologically more painful than card payments, and this pain of payment can curb the impulsive responses to buy unhealthy food items.”

So, if you’re looking to cut weight, try leaving the plastic at home next time you hit the local market: with just cash in hand, maybe you’ll be more likely to load up on lettuce rather than licorice. (Hat tip: Carpe Diem)
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