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Misleading Health Food Claims Confuse Consumers

Don’t you like it when you see, say, a candy product that is labeled “50 percent less fat”? First… 50 percent less than what? Second, it’s candy!

Over the years, as certain dietary concerns became the latest trends (think low-fat, low-carb, etc.), food manufacturers have tried to keep up the best they can while still selling a palatable food product. Maybe the best example is after the low-carb craze really took hold. While it’s died down a little, and research has come out to show that whole grains are a necessary part of a healthy diet, people are still carb-conscious.

Food manufacturers do a dance of deception around the labeling regulations, usually staying within the law, but still doing a good job of misleading consumers.

According to new research regarding low carbohydrate claims, consumers consistently misinterpret the healthfulness of a food product due to the claims on the front. Between 2001 and 2005, at the height of the low-carb craze, there was a 516 percent increase in sales of low-carb products. Part of what fueled this sales boom is that people, in a very literal sense, take what the label says at face value, ignoring the nutritional facts on the back of the package.

In the study, more than 4,000 participants were shown only the front of low-carb products, and it led to “more favorable perceptions about products’ helpfulness for weight management, healthfulness, and caloric content.”

However, when they were also shown the nutritional facts, their perception was improved. That said, Dr. Judith Labiner-Wolfe of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, warns that in real-life shopping situations, people don’t properly analyze the healthfulness of the product, possibly due to busy and hectic surroundings in a grocery store.

(via: ScienceDaily)

October 13th, 2010

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