Seven Health Buzzwords and What They Really Mean
Seven Health Buzzwords and What They Really Mean

Seven Health Buzzwords and What They Really Mean

Consumers are likely to believe that “whole grain” canned pasta, “organic” candy and soda that contains “antioxidants” are more healthful than the same products without those buzzwords on the labels, researchers say.

People say they want to make healthful choices, but “food marketers are taking advantage of them by misleading those consumers with deceptive labeling,” said Temple Northup, assistant professor in communications at the University of Houston and author of a study published Tuesday in the journal Food Studies.

The researchers randomly showed 318 volunteers images of food products with health marketing words either excluded or included.

Products with trigger words analysed in the study included lasagna (wholegrain), peanut butter (all natural), apple sauce (organic), chocolate Cheerios (heart healthy), and Cherry 7-Up (antioxidant).

When one of the trigger words was present, the volunteers would rate the items as healthier. The volunteers also compared nutrition fact panels on pairs of products.

“Findings from this research study indicate people are not very good at reading nutritional labels, even in situations where they are choosing between salmon and spam,” said Dr Northup. “Approximately 20% picked spam as the healthier option.”

Safefood’s chief specialist in nutrition, Marian Faughnan, said research on the island of Ireland in May found that foods marketed as healthier were seen as a licence to overeat.

More than 180 adults took part in the Safefood study led by a team from the University of Ulster.

The study supported ‘the health halo’ effect — people perceive the products to be healthier and with fewer calories than the standard food product.

“People weighted out a much bigger portion of the food they perceived to be healthier and to have less calories than the standard version but the products had exactly the same calorie content,” said Dr Faughnan.

Asked what should be done, Dr Faughnan said people should become familiar with nutrition labels when they bought a new food product. “Just have a look, not just at the claim that is on the front of the product, but at the nutrition information at the back,” she said, adding that people should spend a few minutes every few weeks examining the label of a particular food product they buy regularly.

Dr Northup said he hoped the results would help people understand how food is marketed to shoppers. “Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they’re not,” he said.


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