Following our presentation on the article "Can “Low-Fat Nutrition Labels Lead to Obesity?” by Brian Wansink and Pierre Chandon, we would like to analyse in greater detail the implications of their findings.
Firstly, it is necessary to summarise what Wansink and Chandon discovered during their three studies. As a result of the first study, it was found that low-fat nutrition labelslead people to eat more, resulting in a lower consumption of fat but a greater intake of calories; this was particularly the case with participants deemed to be "overweight”. This was because people tend to underestimate the number of calories in food types labeled "low-fat". Wansink and Chandon developed their analysis and from the two studies which followed, found that another explanation forthe increase in consumption is that low-fat labels increase consumers’ perception of the appropriate serving size. This was the case regardless of participant BMI, since people overestimate the decrease in fat and calories when eating "low-fat" food and believe they can increase their consumption accordingly. Finally, "low-fat" labels decrease the consumer’s sense of guilt, particularly those whoare overweight. Therefore, they can eat more of a "low-fat" food before guilt kicks in and they stop. Before they know it, they’ve consumed more calories than if they had chosen the regular option.
We would now like to analyze in-depth the implications of Wansink and Chandon’s findings, both in general and with regards to marketing practices.
Study 1: Do low fat nutrition labels increaseconsumption?
The study 1 was conducted with 269 participants in a university house opening. The research team set 2 bowls of M&M chocolate candies, one with the label “regular M&M”, another with the label “low-fat M&M”. The study was done to see whether the consumption is more or less when there is a low-fat label as well as to see whether or not people have an estimation bias on calorie whenthey take low fat M&M candies.
The study found out that with low-fat label, participant ate 28% more and over-weight participant took 16.7% more M&M than normal participant. The study also found that the participants underestimated the number of calories by 48% and again over-weight participant has more bias on estimation than normal weight participant.
By the way, one thing should bekept in mind is this study gave M&M chocolate candies to participants for free. The consumption of free foods will be different from foods participants have to buy.
As we mentioned above, all the results of the three studies show that “low fat” label increased the food’s perceived serving size and reduce people’s feeling of guilty thus people actually eat more than theythink when the food is marked “low fat”. This fact gives implications to both public policy officials and the marketers.
The authors pointed out in the article that “well-intentioned marketers can help lead the movement toward behaviour change.” It is also the public policy officials’ responsibility to improve people’s eating behaviour. Thus, for the public policy officials, they could holdcampaigns to raise people’s awareness of their food intake. Also, they could increase the threshold for relative nutrition claim then the “low fat food” would be containing fewer calories than what it contained before.
The three studies also give implications to researchers. Before, the research has been always focused on the influence of nutrition labels on people’s health beliefs and purchaseintentions. And it was mainly focused on low fat labels. Given the result of these studies, researchers could consider to extend their research to a further level. That is, to study whether the health related claims influence people’s food intake and their consumption of other food. They could also extend their study to additional consumer segments and see why different people, for example the...