Those who are trying to lose weight and eat healthier foods are often drawn to foods that are marketed as “fitness foods.” Items like Clif Bars and hearty cereals offer plenty of nutrition, but it is still important to read the labels.
A recent study published in the Journal of Marketing Research showed that foods that are branded as fitness foods may encourage people to eat more when they do not need more calories. This can interfere with weight loss efforts and slow the weight loss process.
Joerg Keonigstorfer and Hans Baumgartner, authors of the study, stated, “Unless a food was forbidden by their diet, branding the product as ‘fit’ increased consumption for those trying to watch their weight. To make matters worse, these eaters also reduced their physical activity, apparently seeing the ‘fit’ food as a substitute for exercise.”
Researchers examined the effects of eating fitness-branded foods on overall consumption of foods and physical activity in those identified as “restrained” eaters, or those who are constantly monitoring their body weight and trying to shed pounds. Participants in the study were provided with “Fitness” or “Trail Mix.” The “Fitness” offerings were labeled with healthy images, such as running sneakers, to make the packaging appear to contain healthier foods. Participants were instructed to use these foods as an afternoon snack, and allowed eight minutes to try the product and determine how much they enjoyed it.
During the second phase of the study, the same participants were given the opportunity to exercise as vigorously as they preferred using a stationary bike, after consuming the snack. Results showed that those who were identified as “restrained” eaters and trying to lose weight, the packaging caused them to consume more of the product labeled as “Fitness.” These participants also exercised less during the second phase.
The authors explained, “It is important that more emphasis be placed on monitoring fitness cues in marketing. For example, a brand could offer gym vouchers or exercise tips instead of just implying fitness via a label or image. Reminding the consumer that exercise is still necessary may counteract the negative effect of these fitness-branded foods.”
If you are watching your weight, it is important to read labels, and be cautious of being attracted to healthy images without monitoring your intake.