Consumers confused by weight management claims

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Weight management, Nutrition

Weight management messages on food and beverage products are often not understood by consumers, according to research from the UK, which suggests that food manufacturers may need to re-think their marketing approach.

Conducted as part of a weight management review by Leatherhead Food Research (LFR), the consumer attitude tests found that most people were confused or sceptical when it came to claims relating to ‘satiety’, ‘sustained energy release’ and ‘feeling fuller longer’.

In addition, individual weight management ingredients were usually not recognised or understood, said Leatherhead nutritionist Sonia Pombo at a Nutrition Research Forum Day held last week.

“Consumers were generally quite sceptical of weight management claims, which is often a result of conflicting information in the press,” ​said Pombo. “Because information between media and science health claims is contradictory, people become confused and ultimately mistrustful of these products,”​ she told food industry executives.

The consumer attitude research was based on focus group discussions and questionnaires, conducted in the north and south of the UK, with consumers aged 20-65. Participants were all female and came from a range of social classes. All were responsible for purchasing the main food shop for their household, and at least one third of each group had children.

What’s satiety?

Findings from the discussions revealed that most women did not know the meaning of some of the most popular weight management terms used by the food industry, such as ‘satiety’ and ‘glycaemic index’.

“Satiety was seen as quite a negative word on food labels. Some people said they wouldn’t know if it was a good or bad thing, while others said they thought it sounded pompous and upper class, being more suited to products from [the ‘higher’ class retailers] Marks & Spencer and Waitrose rather than [value chains] Asda or Tesco,”​ said Pombo

‘Feeling fuller for longer’ was also not well received as a claim on food products, with consumers associating it with feelings of discomfort or feeling bloated. “When its meaning was explained, people thought a better way of describing it would be the term ‘satisfied’,”​ said Pombo.

In addition, less than half of consumes in each of the groups had ever heard of GI, and out of those that were familiar with the acronym only very few knew it stood for Glycaemic Index.

“Although some people recalled GI diets promoted through celebrities, most were unsure whether Low GI was good or bad, and no consumers admitted to trying a GI diet or consciously looking for the GI logo on foods.”

Consumers also did not react well to the claim that a product ‘slows the rate at which the body breaks down food’ as it generated confusion. Comments included: “If it slows down, don’t you absorb more calories?” ​and “From a weight loss point of view, don’t you want it to speed up?”

Finally, participants in the focus groups showed a general lack of knowledge and scepticism of weight management ingredients. Rather than single ingredients, they identified whole foods and types of foods as those associated with weight loss.

“Our conclusion from these consumer groups was that just having a health claim on a product isn’t enough – you need a follow-up claim to describe what you’re selling to consumers,”​ said Pombo.

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