Although there has been ample discussion in recent months regarding the benefits of food labelling and the increased health benefits that may be able to be obtained from label reform, less discussion has been devoted to the possibly negative consequences of such ‘improvements’. A recent study undertaken by analysts at the University of Texas in Austin has shed light on what may prove to be a significant stumbling block for label reform advocates: food labels featuring words such as “healthy” are actually inspiring consumers to eat more of the product in question, increasing the likelihood of binging and, thus, further obesity.
According to the researchers, consumers feel encouraged to eat more of a given product if they feel that this particular item isn’t as bad for them as others, regardless of whatever the recommended intake amount for that particular item may be. Essentially, eating too much “healthy” food is still contributing to the obesity epidemic around the Western world.
Perhaps the use of strong, bold taglines and key phrases on today’s food labels is coming as a response to the otherwise cryptic nature of many food labels that have existed previously, featuring terminology that most consumers were unable to decode in their attempt to find healthy products for themselves or their families. According to yet another product labelling study undertaken by the University of Birmingham, nearly 40% of consumers have reported that they have been unable to determine what their healthiest product choice may be when comparing the labels of multiple items in the grocery store. Researchers moderating the study have claimed that information overload is a prominent factor contributing to this issue for consumer. With this in mind, it is, perhaps, more understandable why some product manufacturers choose only to flash keywords such as “healthy” on the front of their food products in order to immediately capture the attention of potential consumers.
It is, however, important to note that research into food labelling has produced a number of opinions and results which exist at odds to their predecessors. For example, while some studies have shown that a “traffic light” system of green, yellow and red colours to identify safe levels of sugars, salts and other ingredients in food would be highly effective for consumers, other have deemed this system to overbearing and oversimplified, distracting consumers from other important nutritional details that may have been overshadowed by the bold colours.
Of course, it seems that there are multiple sides to any story, and the food labelling industry is no exception. Some industry insiders have claimed that the ‘content’ on many food labels is largely irrelevant due to the fact that this text is often misleading, designed to steer consumer towards a purchase as opposed to actually informing them of real nutritional information.
Ultimately, perhaps, the most important lesson that can be gained from this recent news is this: moderation remains the most surefire way to ensure that a proper diet is maintained. Even the healthiest of foods should not be considered a vehicle for ‘safe’ binging. With this information in mind, consumers will likely be able to avoid the negative effects of overeating while still being able to enjoy a wide range of foods.
It is quite likely that additional labelling legislation will be proposed, debated and enacted over the course of the next several years. For now, consumers must continue to practice vigilance during their grocery trips and adopt a proactive approach towards purchasing food products which help contribute to a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their loved ones. This strategy is, at its core, the best possible method for staying healthy in today’s modern food industry.