Food Packaging May Cause Overeating, Says Study

Apr 07, 2016 04:51 AM EDT | By Chandan Das

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Guests enjoying ice cream cake during the Baskin-Robbins 70th birthday celebration on Dec. 8, 2015 in Burbank, California.
Guests enjoying ice cream cake during the Baskin-Robbins 70th birthday celebration on Dec. 8, 2015 in Burbank, California.
(Photo : Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Baskin-Robbins)

Findings of a recent study suggest that the lip smacking photographs on food packaging may possibly result in customers eating more than a standard recommended serving.

According to the findings, which were published in the Public Health Nutrition journal, while estimating the portion size, consumers may be influenced more by the art on food packaging compared to the serving size usually printed on the back. The problem worsens when the packaging art depicts additional food items for instance a frosting on a cake-mix box, CTV News reported.

John Brand, the paper's lead author, issued a press release recently saying that when one sees a slice of cake overwhelmed in frosting on the cake box, he/ she believes it to be normal and the appropriate size to be served and eaten. However, that is not completely different from the serving size recommended on the nutrition label.

The study was undertaken by researchers from the Food and Brand lab at the Cornell University, who examined over 50 different cake mix brands.

Brand, Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Food and Brand Lab and author of "Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life," and Abby Cohen, a former Food and Brand Lab Intern, undertook a series of studies on the subject and found that representations of frosted cake on cake mix boxes total almost 135 percent additional calories compared to the recommended serving size, Cornell University reported.

One such study involved 72 undergraduates and 44 women in the food-service industry. At the end of the survey, researchers found that food-packaging cover art resulted in people from both groups to overestimate the recommended serving size. In fact, the latter group overestimated 122 calories. On the other hand, when the nutritional labeling did not include the term "frosting" on the box, the estimation of an average serving size was reduced significantly.

Researchers found that if consumers really compared a slice of the delectable-looking cake depicted on the cover cake-mix boxes to the nutritional information provided on the back, the portion contains almost 135 percent more calories compared to the recommended serving.

According to co-author Brain Wansink, there is no doubt that the companies actually do not mean to mislead the customers when they include frosting in cake-box images, but these apparently small packaging elements can have a huge impact.

As a result, the researchers propose companies incorporate a phrase that would remind consumers about the fact that food in packaging images that are not included in the recommended serving size on the product's nutrition label.

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