Are food and snacks marketed for fitness buffs healthy and good for the body? A new study reveals that this might not necessarily be the case. These types of "fitness foods" will likely have the person eating more and exercising less instead.
"Unless a food was forbidden by their diet, branding the product as 'fit' increased consumption for those trying to watch their weight," said Joerg Koenigstorfer, one of the authors of the study, which was published in the Journal of Marketing Research. "To make matters worse, these eaters also reduced their physical activity, apparently seeing the 'fit' food as a substitute for exercise," Koenigstorfer added.
In the study, participants were given trail mix snacks, with some of the packets branded as "fitness" food using pictures or actual labels. One group was told they could have the snack for eight minutes and then rate it, while another group was told they could also use the stationary bike after they have finished eating. More participants picked out the snacks with the "fitness" label on them, and very few opted to ride the bike.
"The fitness food puts the restrained eaters in double jeopardy," said Koenigstorfer, via CNBC. "They eat the fitness food, and they think they got closer to their long-term goal."
"In part, it comes down to what we call the 'health halo,' where we tend to over-indulge and take in more calories if we feel the snacks are healthy," said Dr. Holly Phillips, via CBS News. "But to me it also kind of exposed this insidious way that labeling gives people who are trying to lose weight a false sense of security."
The results especially highlight the importance of reading beyond the labels, particularly in a population whose obesity rates are rising. At least two-thirds of Americans from ages 25 and above are obese or overweight and yet they have the desire to lose weight, according to the CNBC report.
"It is important that more emphasis be placed on monitoring fitness cues in marketing. For example, a brand could offer gym vouchers or exercise tips instead of just implying fitness via a label or image. Reminding the consumer that exercise is still necessary may help counteract the negative effect of these fitness-branded foods," the researchers wrote in their study.