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Dieters duped by Food Names according to
Newswise, June 9, 2011 — What’s in a name?
Plenty, according to a University of South
Carolina study in the Journal of Consumer
Research that found that dieters eager
to make good food choices are more at risk
of being misled by food names than
Dr. Caglar Irmak, an assistant professor of
marketing at the Darla Moore School of
Business, found dieters rate food items with
healthy names such as “salad” as being
healthier than identical food items with
less healthy names such as “pasta.”
Non-dieters made no such distinction.
He conducted the study with co-authors Beth
Vallen of Loyola University and Stefanie
Rose Robinson, a doctoral student in
marketing at the Moore School.
“The fact that people’s perceptions of
healthfulness vary with the name of the food
item isn’t surprising,” Irmak said. “What is
interesting is that dieters, who try to eat
healthy and care about what they eat, fell
into these ‘naming traps’ more than
non-dieters who really don’t care about
When study participants were given a choice
between the same candy labeled “fruit chew”
and “candy chew,” not only did dieters
perceive the candy named fruit chew as more
healthful than the one named candy chew, but
they ate more candies when the items were
called fruit chews (versus candy chews).
Why are dieters who want to eat well so
easily duped by these labels?
Dieters avoid forbidden foods based on
product names, Irmak said. As they hone in
on food names – salad versus pasta – they
give less consideration to product
information. On the flip side, Irmak said,
non-dieters tend to miss cues that imply
healthfulness, including names, because of
their lack of focus on healthy eating.
A salad in a restaurant may include items
that dieters typically would avoid, such as
meat, cheese, bread or pasta. Other examples
Irmak gives are milkshakes listed as
“smoothies,” potato chips called “veggie
chips” and sugary drinks labeled “favored
He says dieters should focus on reading
nutritional information on food products and
menus and not food names.
“These results should give dieters pause.
The study shows that dieters base their food
decisions on the name of the food item
instead of the ingredients of the item,”
Irmak said. “As a result, they may eat more
than what their dieting goals prescribe.”
Irmak and his colleagues based their
conclusions on surveys and experiments
involving more than 520 participants.
The article, titled “The Impact of Product
Name on Dieters’ and Non-Dieters’ Food
Evaluations and Consumption” will be
published in the August issue of the Journal
of Consumer Research (http:www.ejcr.org).