Yesterday there was an interesting study published in Public Health Nutrition.
The study, “Frosting on the cake: pictures on food packaging bias serving size” explored four questions.
1. Do the calories of the foods pictured on fronts of packages exceed the calories stated on the package’s per serving nutrition label?
Using cake mixes as an example the authors demonstrated that as pictured, with frosting, the slices of cake on the fronts of packages contained 134% more calories than the serving size calories published on the packages’ nutritional facts panels.
2. Do people take extra ingredient calories into account when determining serving size?
Cornell undergrads were provided with two types of cake mix boxes and asked to estimate the “appropriate” number of calories per serving of cake.
One group of undergrads’ boxes had photos of cake with frosting, while another group’s boxes had photos of the same cakes unfrosted. The group with photos of cake with frosting were explicitly told that the frosting shown on the fronts of their packages’ cakes was not included in the cake’s back of box nutritional labeling. A third group was given boxes with photos of cake with frosting, but with no note regarding the frosting’s calories not being included in the nutritional labelling.
The authors found that when there was no proviso about the frosting’s calories not being included, the amount of calories that people believed were “appropriate” for a serving of cake rose dramatically.
3. Would clear front of package labelling about extra ingredients reduce serving size norms?
Using more undergrads, one group was provided with a box of cake mix that included a photo of cake with frosting and then asked to indicate what they thought would be a normal serving size, a second group was provided with boxes that included the frosting not included in calculations proviso, and the last group with boxes that included photos of frostingless cake. All groups used a series of cake slices that varied in size as determined by 100 calorie increments to make their selections.
The students who weren’t told about the frosting, selected cake slices containing nearly double the calories of those told frosting calories were not included on the nutritional labelling.
4. Would labelling about extra ingredients reduce serving size norms in nutritionally savvy consumers?
Basically a repeat of question number 3, but with the participants being 44 food-service industry conference attendees.
With this group, despite being professional food service workers, when faced with the box without the proviso about frosting, though not nearly as significantly as with the undergrads, they too chose larger serving sizes.
Ultimately what this study suggests is that at least with cake, more accurate front of package food photography would influence how much consumers served themselves. The authors note that it is not at all uncommon for front of package food photos to include sauces, toppings and other supplemental extras that would not have been included in the product’s labelling. There’s also little doubt that in many (most?) cases, a boxed food’s front of package photos are of servings much larger than the back panel’s calculated serving size.
All of this to say that package reforms and legislative efforts need to consider more than just the nutrition facts panel, and that ensuring that front-of-package food photos accurately reflect both the panel’s reported serving size, and that if there are extras, either they’re accounted for on the panel, or a proviso is clearly provided stating that they’re not, might influence that product’s consumption.
[Reading the study my mind went immediately to cereal where serving sizes are usually in the neighbourhood of ½-¾ of a cup, and yet the bowls on fronts of boxes likely contain 2 cups or more.]
Ultra-processed foods are,
“formulations of several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular, flavours, colours, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product“
In other words they’re Cheetos and Lunchables, hot dogs and energy drinks, Oreos and Entenmanns, Lean Cuisine and Hot Pockets, etc.
And it seems that they make up the majority of foods currently being consumed by North Americans.
With prior research clearly implicating diets rich in ultra-processed foods in the development of chronic non-communicable diseases such as obesity, that ultra-processed foods provide nearly 60% of the total daily energy intake of Americans’ diets is hugely concerning.
Honestly, as far as dietary advice goes, perhaps the easiest for you to follow would be to try to reduce your (and your family’s) reliance on ultra-processed products.
But please don’t grab a black garbage bag and head through your home tossing out the stuff, instead slowly start buying ultra-processed foods less often. Increase your use of your kitchen to transform fresh whole ingredients into meals and not simply as a place to mix boxes and jars of stuff together and call it cooking. And if your cooking skills aren’t terrific, start with an easy cookbook or online resource and make a point of losing even just one ultra-processed meal and then slowly, surely, build up your confidence and your cooking repertoire.
Do so and I’d be willing to wager the improvement to the quality of your diet will greatly exceed that which you might accomplish by agonizing over comparatively minor details like trying to choose the “best” diet, focusing on your microbiome’s health, “juicing“, or doing whichever idiotic “detox” is the flavour of the month.
What we need is a swap from products to produce, and given our current food environment and societal food norms, that’ll be no mean feat.
(And if you’re Canadian, please don’t be smug about our neighbours to the South’s eating habits because according to research done by these same researchers, Canadians are actually worse off with nearly 62% of our energy intakes coming from ultra-processed fare.)
by Saeed Khan If you work on a product that requires a training class, your product is way too complex!!! OK, just kidding. If you work in the B2B space, it’s almost guaranteed that there is a training requirement for your product. The training may be delivered face-to-face in a classroom setting, or over the […]
Social networks, the term has come to mean more than one thing in our society. And this particular study can really throw you for a loop if you focus on what most of us now think of when we say […]