Nutrition labels can lead even most health conscious consumers astray

January 19, 2012

Jan. 2012                                   Donald Lichtenstein

Your food choice may not be as healthy as you think. New research by Donald Lichtenstein, CU-Boulder professor of the Leeds School of Business, reveals how food manufacturers are trying to make their products appear more nutritional.  It’s a tactic he calls the “Health Framing Effect.”

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Nutrition labels can lead even most health conscious consumers astray

Jan. 2010                                                                   Donald Lichtenstein

Your food choice may not be as healthy as you think. New research by Donald Lichtenstein, CU-Boulder professor of the Leeds School of Business, reveals how food manufacturers are trying to make their products appear more nutritional.  It’s a tactic he calls the “Health Framing Effect.”

CUT 1 “ ‘Health Framing’ deals with manufacturers of food presenting smaller serving sizes on the nutritional labels, and what that allows them to do, of course, is to cut the negative nutrients such as calories and fat that they report per serving. (:18) So what that does is that when you present a smaller serving size it cuts down the calories per serving, which makes consumers feel less guilty about consuming the product and affects not only their purchase intentions, but actual choice.” (:34)

Consumers will think the item with fewer calories is the healthier choice, even though it’s exactly the same. Lichtenstein says, surprisingly, those most affected by the framing effect are people who actually read the nutritional labels.

CUT 2 “Those consumers who are more health conscious, they pay attention to the calorie information, but they don’t go take the extra step to look at serving size also. So they are duped, if you will, by a health framing effect.” (:14)

Liechtenstein says it’s common to find brands using this tactic against competitors, but some manufacturers health frame amongst products in their own food line.

CUT 3 “Thai Kitchen made by Simply Asia -- the exact same cartons from Thai Kitchen on their Spring Onion Soup -- one of them, a serving size is one bowl at 68 grams and the other one the serving size is half a bowl at 34 grams and, of course, it cuts the calories in half.” (:22)

Before purchasing your next food item, Lichtenstein says to check the serving size. To be truly food conscious, he says people need to be food label conscious.

CUT 4 “Pay attention to nutritional information. That’s the general health appeal. When you do so, don’t just look at the serving -- the calories or fat per serving -- look at fat or calories per ounce or something where you can look at how many ounces you’re going to eat because that will undo the health framing effect.” (:25)

While the “Nutrition Facts” printed on food labels are regulated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration, companies are given freedom to present food packages as a single serving or as smaller serving sizes with a package, says Lichtenstein.

 

-CU-

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