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Study: People Eat Bigger Portion Sizes When The Food Is Labeled ‘Healthy’

Study: People Eat Bigger Portion Sizes When The Food Is Labeled ‘Healthy’

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

People assume they can eat larger portion sizes of foods labeled “healthy,” even when those foods actually have the same amount of calories as the “non-healthy” versions, according to the results from a new study. The research project was an attempt to assess whether food companies’ marketing efforts to brand their products as healthier have an impact on consumer choices.

Researchers asked 186 adults to determine the appropriate portion sizes of both “healthy” and regular brands of different foods. The participants tended to serve themselves larger portions of the “healthy” food, and they also tended to underestimate the amount of calories that were actually in it. The study’s researchers attribute these behaviors to the effective marketing strategies that the food industry uses to convince people that even processed foods aren’t so bad if they’re being touted as healthier options:

“People think (healthier food) is lower in calories,” said Pierre Chandon, a marketing professor at the INSEAD Social Science Research Center in France, and they “tend to consume more of it.”

That misconception can lead to people eating larger portion sizes of so-called healthy foods, and therefore more calories.

“Foods are marketed as being healthier for a reason, because food producers believe, and they correctly believe, that those labels will influence us to eat their products and perhaps eat more of their products,” said Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan, the director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood, a government agency in Ireland.

The new study builds upon previous research that found that green labeling is “coded” as healthier — so when a product is marketed in green packaging, Americans tend to assume it has fewer calories, even if it’s a product like a candy bar.

As Americans continue to grapple with an ongoing obesity epidemic, fast food companies in the United States have attempted to use these type of marketing tactics in order to rebrand themselves as healthier choices Popular chains like McDonald’s, Panda Express, Taco Bell, and Coca-Cola have all attempted to improve their national image by offering up “healthy” options — even though they haven’t actually changed much about the actual nutritional content of their products.

This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.


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3:48AM PDT on Mar 27, 2014


3:15AM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

Thank you

8:24AM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

Bill and Katie D. "We all know what healthy is and know how to limit the portions!
Healthy doesn't make us eat more of it!!"

Human beings don't actually work the way your statement believes. The science is very interesting ... Just a starting point ... "Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses"

The research was in part stimulated by trying to understand why people will vote for representatives who do not have their best interests at heart.

5:38PM PDT on Jun 15, 2013

Thank you

5:38AM PDT on Jun 13, 2013

haha of course!

4:23AM PDT on May 29, 2013

Good to know.

10:26PM PDT on May 28, 2013

We all know what healthy is and know how to limit the portions!
Healthy doesn't make us eat more of it!!
Thank You

7:04AM PDT on May 28, 2013

... they eat just as much if not more if it's also labeled, "Free." :-)

6:55AM PDT on May 28, 2013

Interesting info ... Ty

3:48AM PDT on May 28, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

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