Food labels about fat content are often misleading

February 5, 2002 in Healthy Eating, Weight Management

Food labels about fat content are often misleading

Consumers tend to see a food labeled "75% fat-free" as healthier than an item that contains "25% fat," even though both products have exactly the same fat content, new study findings show. Scientists from the University of Glasgow in conducted several experiments where they asked a group of college students to evaluate information about a food product that was described as either containing a percentage of fat or as being a certain percentage "fat-free.”

The investigators found that products were judged as less healthy when they were labeled with the percentage of fat they contained, rather than their "fat-free" percentage. For example, students were more likely to consider a yogurt labeled "95% fat-free" to be healthy than one labeled "contains 5% fat."

In a second experiment, students read a passage about a new food product designed to be "healthy" that was described as either "75% fat-free" or "containing 25% fat." The students were more likely to breeze through the description of a product as healthy when it was described as 75% fat-free without challenge, but were more likely to pause at the notion that a product with 25% fat could be considered healthy.

Consumers seemed to ignore their knowledge about how much fat is healthy when determining how healthy a particular product was, if the content was expressed as '% fat-free. Presenting the information in a fat-free context seems to block the process of evaluating whether or not the product is truly healthy.

Consumers must think about the type of product they're considering and not just about the quantity information communicated on the label.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.