12 January - 20 June 2016

Less always more - taste preference, health attributes and labelling

19 June 13

When it comes to judging the health value of foods, a low fat label may be more powerful than caloric information, according to new research.  The new study data, published in Appetite, reveals that consumers believe that foods labelled as ‘low fat’ are healthier and better tasting than ‘regular’ versions of the same food, while also suggesting that caloric labelling had little effect on perceptions.  Led by Professor Daria Ebneter from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA, the researchers examined the role of low-fat claims and caloric information on food intake, calorie estimates, and health attributions.  The team found that neither fat content labelling nor caloric information had a significant effect on food intake, but revealed that fat labelling “may be more powerful than caloric information as a determinant of health attributions”.  The researchers examined whether low-fat labelling and caloric information had an effect on food intake, calorie estimates, taste preference, and health perceptions using a sample of 175 female participants who were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions.  A 2 x 2 between subjects factorial design was used in which the fat content label and caloric information was manipulated.  The differences in food intake across conditions did not reach statistical significance.  However, participants significantly underestimated the calorie content of low-fat-labelled candy.  Participants also rated low-fat-labelled candy as significantly better tasting when they had caloric information available.  Participants endorsed more positive health attributions for low-fat-labelled candy than for regular-labelled candy, independent of caloric information.  The study findings may be related to the ‘health halo’ associated with low-fat foods and add to the research base by examining the interaction between low-fat and calorie labelling.

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