Whether information about food components can
convince consumers to increasingly reach for foods with fewer calories has been investigtaed by scientists from the
University of Bonn worked with colleagues from Ohio State University
Chocolate or apple? Most people are in two minds when buying food:
one motivation is to purchase whatever tastes best - so something that
is generally sweet or fatty. At the same time, we know attention should
be paid on health factors and, for instance, making sure we don't
consume too many calories.
‘The influence of taste and nutritional value on the selection of food has been investigated by researchers.’
"Often, this deliberation process favors
foods that taste good," says Prof. Bernd Weber from the Center for
Economics and Neuroscience (CENs) at the University of Bonn. In
contrast, products that don't taste as good but may be healthier are
much more likely to be left on the shelf.
Does it have to be this way?
total of 44 adult participants were first asked to what extent they
like 100 different foods. Half of these products - including chips,
chocolate bars and cookies - were less healthy foods. The other half -
such as rice waffles, crispbread and natural yoghurt - were more
desirable for health reasons. The participants were not allowed to eat
anything for four hours before the actual test so that everyone
completed the study with the same size of appetite.
Choice between calorific and healthier products
On the computer screen, the subjects were able to choose from two
products, one healthy and one less so, the components of which were also
stated. In some cases, this meant nutritional information in the form
of grams and percentages. Alternatively, the content information was
combined with a "food traffic light".
Red symbolized, for instance, a
high proportion of fats, sugar or salt - while green represented a low
proportion. Yellow held a middle position, like in a traffic light. When
assessing the data, the scientists took into account the personal
preferences of the participants: is the product among the person's
favorite foods or did they not like the taste very much?
The subjects were above all guided by their taste when the
nutritional information shown consisted of grams and percentages.
"However, if this information was combined with the food traffic light
colors, health aspects of the product played a greater role," says lead
author Laura Enax from CENs at the University of Bonn.
On average, it
was several percentage points more likely that healthier foods were
chosen when the traffic light colors came into play than when pure
figures were shown on the food packaging.
Consumers pay attention to figures as well as traffic light colors
What's more, the researchers tested whether the subjects were only
guided by the colors in that the products only featured a green or red
label for a single nutrient. "The effects here are much smaller compared
with the full 'nutrient traffic light'," says Laura Enax.
In a previously conducted study, the scientists from CENS had
already shown that the traffic light colors act like a kind of
"amplifier" to areas of consumers' brains responsible for self-control.
"The current study was about how a better balance can be achieved
between taste-related preferences and health aspects when making a
purchase," explains Prof. Weber. "The traffic light colors seem to have a
much more favorable effect here than pure percentages and grams."