Beware of Food Buzzwords, Says UH Professor

By Staff Reports

Whole grain lasagna, all natural snack chips and soda with antioxidants are just a few of the products that may jump off the supermarket shelves as healthier options. But at some point, says UH Professor Temple Northup, you have to wonder about the nutritional worth of any packaged food product that needs a buzzword-laden label to make its case.

“If there’s a health statement on a label trying to make a case for how healthy it is, it’s generally not a healthy choice,” said Northup, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication. Northup recently conducted a study that examined the degree to which consumers link marketing terms on food packaging with good health. To sum it up, approximately 33 percent of study participants picked Spam as the healthier option over salmon.

“Food marketers say there are nutritional labels, so people can find out what’s healthy and what’s not,” he said. “Findings from this research study indicate people aren’t very good at reading nutritional labels, even in situations where they are choosing between salmon and Spam.”

In a survey of 318 study participants, Northup found when participants were shown the front of food packaging that included one of those trigger words — organic, whole grain, heart healthy, antioxidants and all natural — they would rate the items as healthier.

Northup says a “ false sense of health,” as well as a failure to understand the information presented in nutrition facts panels on packaged food, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States.

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