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The heuristics that guide healthiness perception of ultra-processed foods: a qualitative exploration

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 September 2020

Leandro Machín
Affiliation:
Centro de Investigación Básica en Psicología, Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de la República, Tristán Narvaja 1674, C.P. 11200, Montevideo, Uruguay
Lucía Antúnez
Affiliation:
Sensometrics and Consumer Science, Instituto Polo Tecnológico de Pando, Facultad de Química, Universidad de la República, By Pass de Rutas 8 y 101 s/n, C.P. 91000, Pando, Canelones, Uruguay
María Rosa Curutchet
Affiliation:
Observatorio de Seguridad Alimentaria, Instituto Nacional de Alimentacion, Montevideo, Uruguay
Gastón Ares
Affiliation:
Centro de Investigación Básica en Psicología, Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de la República, Tristán Narvaja 1674, C.P. 11200, Montevideo, Uruguay Sensometrics and Consumer Science, Instituto Polo Tecnológico de Pando, Facultad de Química, Universidad de la República, By Pass de Rutas 8 y 101 s/n, C.P. 91000, Pando, Canelones, Uruguay
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

Objective:

To explore the conceptualisation of healthy food by citizens and how they judge the healthiness of ultra-processed foods.

Design:

Four focus groups were conducted using a semi-structured discussion guide. Focus group discussions were held about the concept of healthy food, what characterise a healthy product and healthiness perception of ultra-processed products. Transcripts of the focus groups were analysed following an inductive coding approach.

Setting:

Uruguay, one of the Latin American countries with the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity.

Participants:

Fifty-two adult Uruguayan participants, diverse in terms of gender, age, educational level and socio-economic status.

Results:

In agreement with previous studies on lay perceptions of healthy eating, the conceptualisation of healthy food was mainly focused on food characteristics. Although participants regarded lack of processing as a cue for healthiness, they did not categorise all ultra-processed products as unhealthy. Albeit some product categories were automatically regarded as unhealthy, participants considered that other categories could include healthy and unhealthy products. In such cases, they explicitly referred to several simplified cognitive strategies to judge whether an ultra-processed product is healthy or not. Results showed that participants tended to rely on simple cues, such as label design, nutrient claims, brand, price and country of origin as indicators of product healthiness.

Conclusions:

Healthiness perception of ultra-processed products seems to be largely influenced by heuristics, which stresses the need to implement policies that make the potential negative effects of ultra-processed products salient.

Type
Research paper
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Nutrition Society

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