"That 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 worldwide including the US," new research says.

"Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they are not," cautioned Temple Northup, assistant professor from the Jack J. Valenti School of communication at University of Houston (UH).

The study examined the degree to which consumers link marketing terms on food packaging with good health. It found that consumers tend to view food products labeled with health-related euphemisms as healthier than those without them.

The research also showed that the nutrition facts panels printed on food packaging do little to counteract that buzzword marketing. Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit.

"When people stop to think about it, there is nothing healthy about antioxidant Cherry 7-Up - it is mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all," Northup emphasized.

In a study involving 318 participants, researchers rated how "healthy" products were.
Northup found when participants were shown the front of food packaging that included one of those trigger words, they would rate the items as healthier.

The results would help people understand the effects of how food is marketed to consumers, the study concluded.


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