Can Healthy Foods Lead to Overeating?
When it comes to that New Year’s diet – you may want to be careful that you’re not eating too much of a “good” thing.
A study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research has found that if we perceive a certain food to be “healthy,” we are likely to consume more of it.
Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin conducted experiments on three groups of participants. First, they enrolled 50 undergraduate students to complete the Implicit Association Test, which was used to assess whether they believed healthy foods to be less filling than unhealthy foods.
Next, the researchers asked 40 graduate students to consume a cookie; one cookie was presented to them in packaging with nutritional information that represented it as unhealthy, while the other cookie was portrayed as healthy. Participants were then asked to report their hunger levels.
In a third “real world” experiment, involving 72 undergraduate students, the team assessed how health portrayals of food affected the amount of food participants ordered prior to watching a short film, and how such portrayals affected the amount of food consumed during the film.
In the cookie experiment, researchers found that participants who consumed the “healthy” cookie reported greater hunger after eating than those who consumed the cookie described as unhealthy. In the real world experiment, the team found that participants ordered larger portion sizes before watching the film and ate more food during the film when food was portrayed as healthy, compared with when food was portrayed as unhealthy.
Even individuals who did not believe in the theory that unhealthy foods are less filling – as determined by the Implicit Association Test – reported greater hunger after consuming the “healthy” cookie and ordered and consumed more food when it was portrayed as healthy.
The team believes their findings suggest that rather than helping to combat obesity, “healthy” food labels could be contributing to the problem by encouraging people to overeat.
Don’t miss this week’s Slice of History–The TV Dinner.