A recent study suggests that food labels may be misleading and consumers should also refer to the ingredients before buying food products.
Obesity has become a big issue in the U.S. and there are several reasons that contribute to the growing problem. Scientists say that poor food habits are one of the leading causes of obesity in the country.
Lead investigator of the study, Dr. Temple Northup, Assistant Professor, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, says that many consumers have changed to more nutritious diets. However, food companies are marketing unhealthy food with healthy buzzwords such as "organic," "whole grain" and more.
Dr. Northup claims that food corporations are successful in fooling consumers with manipulated food packaging. The study suggests that consumers associate marketing terms with health and are more inclined to think that food labels with such buzzwords are healthier than the products that do not have them.
"Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit," says Dr. Northup. "When people stop to think about it, there's nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up - it's mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all."
The study also says that per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a food package should contain nutrition facts. However, customers tend to overlook the nutrition facts and are more attracted to the misleading labels with buzzwords.
For the purpose of the study, the researchers showed 318 participants random pictures of food products. Some of the products included marketing and buzzwords, while others did not include them.
The researchers used products with buzzwords such as lasagna (wholegrain), peanut butter (all natural), apple sauce (organic) and more. The scientists say that when the buzzwords appeared the participants rated them as healthy. The volunteers also analyzed the nutrition facts of food products.
Dr. Northup says that people were not keen or good at reading the nutritional facts on a food packaging. However, most of the participants were attracted to the marketing words.
The investigators say that the study shows how food companies are able to manipulate a customer's perception to a certain food product. Consumers should be able to understand the marketing tactics deployed by food companies and before buying a product they should also refer to nutrition facts on the package.