Reactions to food labels vary by socioeconomic status

Reactions to food labelling vary depending on consumer socioeconomic status, according to new research using popcorn.

A new Greenwich University study on high and low fat food labelling suggests that socioeconomic status affects how people view food labels.

In the research project nearly 300 participants attended a London cinema and were offered a large tub of salted or toffee popcorn. Participants received their selected flavour with one of three labels: a green low-fat label, a red high-fat label or no label. They then watched two film clips while completing measures of demographic characteristics, emotional state and taste of the popcorn. Following the experiment, popcorn consumption was measured.

Dr Rachel Crockett, Senior Research Fellow at Greenwich’s Faculty of Education & Health told Foodnavigator that when people who were concerned about their weight and of higher socioeconomic status saw a low fat label, it made them eat more than their unconcerned counterparts.

Labels had the opposite effect on popcorn lovers worried about their weight but of lower socioeconomic status: they ate less of the low fat snack – and less of the high fat snack. But they tucked in as normal to the unlabelled tub.

Crockett said: “Nutritional labelling is being advocated by policy makers internationally, as a means to promote healthy eating, but there has been very little research assessing the impact of labelling on eating behaviour in the general population.”

“This research is important as it suggests that nutritional labelling may help people who want to lose weight from lower socioeconomic groups to eat more healthily.”

The research also suggested that people who were not worried about their weight ate similar amounts regardless of label and where no label was

The research paper was published in international journal Appetite. Other universities involved in the research were Oxford, Southampton, King’s College London and Cambridge.

Crockett said she was currently working on a systematic literature review of the impact of nutritional labelling internationally for the not-for-profit organization the Cochrane Collaboration.

Source: Appetite
Volume 81, 1 October 2014, Pages 12–19, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.05.024
"The impact of nutritional labels and socioeconomic status on energy intake. An experimental field study"
Authors: Rachel A. Crockett, Susan A. Jebb, Matthew Hankins, Theresa M. Marteau

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