Study examines impact of labeling food products as 'snacks' or 'meals'

Marketing food as a 'snack' leads to increased consumption and continued overeating, a new study in the journal Appetite reports.

In the first-ever study of its kind, Professor Jane Ogden and her researchers from the University of Surrey examined the impact of labeling food products as 'snacks' or 'meals'.

During this innovative investigation, eighty participants were asked to eat a pasta pot which was either labeled as a 'snack' or a 'meal.' Each pot was presented as a 'snack' (eaten standing up from a plastic pot with a plastic fork) or a 'meal' (seated at a table from a ceramic plate and metal fork).  Once consumed, participants were invited to take part in an additional taste test of different foods (animal biscuits, hula hoops, M&M's and mini cheddars.)

Researchers found that those who had eaten pasta labeled as a 'snack' ate more at the taste test then when it had been labeled as a 'meal.' It was also found that those who ate the 'snack' standing up consumed more (50 percent more total mass, sweet mass and total calories and 100 percent more M&M's) than those who had eaten the pasta sitting down at a table.

This unique set of results demonstrate that when a food is labeled as a snack rather than a meal consumption is higher, particularly when standing rather than sitting. Researchers have attributed this to a combination of factors and believe that when eating a snack we are more easily distracted and may not be conscious of consumption. They also argue that memories for snacks and meals may be encoded differently in our subconscious and that we are unable to recall what we have eaten as a 'snack.'

Jane Ogden, Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: "With our lives getting busier increasing numbers of people are eating on the go and consuming foods that are labeled as 'snacks' to sustain them. What we have found is that those who are consuming snacks are more likely to over eat as they may not realize or even remember what they have eaten.

"To overcome this we should call our food a meal and eat it as meal, helping make us more aware of what we are eating so that we don't overeat later on."

Obesity is a growing problem in the United Kingdom with levels reported to have trebled in the last 30 years with 24.9 percent of people now deemed obese, the highest levels in Europe. It is estimated that £16 billion a year is spent on the direct medical costs of diabetes and conditions related to being overweight or obese.

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