The study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that when consumers were offered foods labeled “healthy” as well as unlabeled foods, they tended to eat a larger portion of the “healthier” foods compared to the “standard” foods. The study looked at the meal options of 186 adults to assess the appropriate portion sizes of foods.
“People think (healthier food) is lower in calories,” said Pierre Chandon, a marketing professor at the INSEAD Social Science Research Center in France, and they “tend to consume more of it.”
That misconception can lead to people eating larger portion sizes of so-called healthy foods, and therefore more calories.
“Foods are marketed as being healthier for a reason, because food producers believe, and they correctly believe, that those labels will influence us to eat their products and perhaps eat more of their products,” said Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan the director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood, a government agency in Ireland.
Foley Nolan noted that the portion sizes of food have become larger over the years, and Safefood wanted to see whether health and nutrition claims had any influence.
The study noted that when participants were offered a bowl of coleslaw, they ate more of the coleslaw labeled “healthier” than the coleslaw labeled “standard.”
Meanwhile, another study published in the Journal of Marketing Research in 2006 found that “low-fat” nutrition labels also drove consumers to overeat after they overestimated the recommended serving size and led them to feel less guilty about consuming the food.