“Healthy” Food Labels Dupe Customers into Believing Products are More Beneficial: Study


Labels used by food marketing industries are fooling customers into believing that packaged products are healthier than they actually are, according to a University of Houston study.

Researchers said that by using health-related buzzwords like "organic," "antioxidant," "natural," "gluten-free" and "whole grain," on labels, the industries are misleading conscious individuals that they are eating well. They claim that the "false sense of health" spurred by the industries may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.

For example, researchers said that there is nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up as it constitutes a large portion of fructose syrup or sugar. By labelling the product as "anti-oxidant", the manufacturers are adding some sort of health benefit to it, when in reality, there isn't one actually.

"Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they're not," principal investigator, Dr Temple Northup, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, said in a press release.

The researchers found that shoppers are more likely to perceive food products labelled with health-related terms as healthier than those without them. The nutritional facts printed on the products do little to offset the buzzword marketing.

In the study, the researchers analysed the "priming' psychology" behind certain words that encourage shoppers to assign a health benefit to a food product with harmful ingredients.

For the study, the researchers asked 318 study participants to complete an online survey. The survey randomly displayed images of food products with actual marketing words like organic, or a Photoshop image that did not feature any traces of those words - seeking to create two different images of the same products.

The products used in the study were Apple Sauce (organic), Lasagna (whole grain), Chocolate Cheerios (heart healthy), Cherry 7-Up (antioxidant) and Peanut Butter (all natural).

The researchers found that participants would rate a product healthier if it contains at least one of the buzzwords than the other image without the word.

Food market industries say that nutritional labels would help customers choose healthier option between two products. However, the findings indicate that people are not good at reading or understanding those labels.

For example, approximately 20 percent of the participants selected Spam as the healthier option over salmon.

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