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Frosting on the cake: pictures on food packaging bias serving size

  • John Brand (a1) (a2), Brian Wansink (a1) (a2) and Abby Cohen (a3)
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.
Abstract
Objective

Food packaging often pictures supplementary extras, such as toppings or frosting, that are not listed on the nutritional labelling. The present study aimed to assess if these extras might exaggerate how many calories are pictured and if they lead consumers to overserve.

Design

Four studies were conducted in the context of fifty-one different cake mixes. For these cake mixes, Study 1 compared the calories stated on the nutrition label with the calories of the cake (and frosting) pictured on the box. In Studies 2, 3 and 4, undergraduates (Studies 2 and 3) or food-service professionals (Study 4) were given one of these typical cake mix boxes, with some being told that cake frosting was not included on the nutritional labelling whereas others were provided with no additional information. They were then asked to indicate what they believed to be a reasonable serving size of cake.

Settings

Laboratory setting.

Subjects

Undergraduate students and food-service professionals.

Results

Study 1 showed that the average calories of cake and frosting pictured on the package of fifty-one different cake mixes exceed the calories on the nutritional label by 134 %. Studies 2 and 3 showed that informing consumers that the nutritional information does not include frosting reduces how much people serve. Study 4 showed that even food-service professionals overserve if not told that frosting is not included on the nutritional labelling.

Conclusions

To be less misleading, packaging should either not depict extras in its pictures or it should more boldly and clearly state that extras are not included in calorie counts.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Email fblsubmissions@cornell.edu
Footnotes
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Throughout the present paper, ‘calories’=kcal (1 kcal=4·184 kJ).

Footnotes
References
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Public Health Nutrition
  • ISSN: 1368-9800
  • EISSN: 1475-2727
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