Health labels on food could be making people fatter rather than helping them to lose weight, a study has found. People eat more food than they should if it is labelled healthy because they think it is less filling than fatty options.
Consumers tend to binge when they see nutritional signs because they automatically assume they are making a better choice. As a result they could end up consuming more calories overall, researchers said.
The results suggest that, while eating too much is often the cause of obesity, eating too much healthy food could make you fat too.
Food labels tend to make people fat - especially if those foods are labeled as 'healthy.' That's because people tend to binge on foods they believe are healthy, and end up consuming too many calories, a new study found
Food labels in the UK have been a source of controversy and products are supposed to have a ‘traffic light’ system which shows how much salt, fat and sugar the item contains.
But some consumers see the labels as overbearing and another example of the nanny state.
The researchers conducted three experiments; the first involved 50 participants who were tested to see how they saw the relationship between the concepts of healthy and filling.
The second test involved measuring the hunger levels of 40 people after eating a cookie that was described as either healthy or unhealthy.
In the third study 72 people were asked to measure the impact of how food was portrayed on the amount they ordered before watching a short film.
This was compared to the amount of food they actually ate during the screening.
The three studies showed that consumers hold an implicit belief that healthy foods are less filling than unhealthy foods.
In particular, when the food had a label on the front which described it as healthy, test participants were more likely to eat more than they should.
The study said: ‘The findings suggest that the recent proliferation of healthy food labels may be ironically contributing to the obesity epidemic rather than reducing it.'
The research was carried out by the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business but has implications for British consumers too.
The last overhaul of nutritional food labelling in the UK was in 2013 when the current ‘traffic light’ system was introduced.
Consumers tend to binge when they see nutritional signs because they automatically assume they are making a better choice. As a result they could end up consuming more calories overall, researchers said
Foods with high levels of salt, sugar or fat are in labelled in red with the amount written in.
Foods with moderate levels are in yellow and low levels are in green.
The label also shows the percentage of your daily recommended allowance for each that the item contains.
However a University of Birmingham study found that many consumers experienced ‘information overload’ when looking at the labels and could not understand what they were reading.
In one test, 40 per cent of shoppers could not identify the healthier product when comparing two traffic light systems with a horizontal and circular layout.
Previous studies have claimed that food companies are not telling the truth about what their products contain, making it harder still to make an informed choice.