Cake mix boxes are adorned with scrumptious looking cakes on their packages, enticing the consumers to buy them. Researchers say that these delectable images, such as the cake with frosting and a cherry on the top, are probably equally responsible for consuming more of the cake than the recommended serving size.

Well, that's what the new study says, which was carried out by John Brand and Brian Wansink of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and Abby Cohen of the Eller School of Management at the University of Arizona.

The research explains that the packaging art on the food boxes, such as cake or pancake mixes, contains extra toppings, sauces or frosting that could influence the estimation of the portion size as being larger than the appropriate serving size mentioned on the pack. This tends to make a person over serve a piece of cake.

"If we see a slice of cake smothered in frosting on the cake box, we think that is what is normal to serve and eat, but that's not what is reflected in the serving size recommendation on the nutrition label," said Brand.

The researchers designed four different studies to arrive at their conclusion.

In Study 1, 51 cake mixes from different brands were picked off the shelves from various grocery stores. The associated calories mentioned on the nutrition label were compared to that of the cake with frosting, as pictured on the box.

In Study 2 and Study 3, these cake mix boxes were distributed among several undergraduate students. The participants were then asked what they think the serving size of the cake. While some boxes have the phrase "frosting not included on the nutritional labeling," others didn't show this information.

Study 4 was pretty similar in nature to Study 2 and 3, but the respondents are food-service professionals. They were also asked to estimate the reasonable serving size.

The findings, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, revealed that the depiction of decorated cakes on the packaging amounts to about 135 percent more calories than the suggested serving portion. Further, the presentation of decorated cakes apparently influenced the participants to serve more and eat more.

The study also affirmed that whether it be students or food professionals, by informing the consumers that the nutritional label does not include frosting, the estimation of the serving portion reduced considerably as compared to when not being informed.

On the basis of the study, the researchers suggest that food companies should either not depict such misleading images at all or include a note on the package that informs the consumers that the "extras" portrayed on the packaging is not included in the nutritional label.

Photo: Alex Janu | Flickr 

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