The higher the global rate of obesity among adults becomes, the more products and entire industries are turning towards offering the illusion of combating it. Virtually every food category started offering “fitness” alternatives and marketing all sorts of products as being a sort of treatment.

But the way in which humans consume them doesn’t necessarily lead to a better diet or to weight loss and can, in fact, lead to the opposite effect. In a study done by Pennsylvania State University in the United States, two groups of people were told they were participating in a taste test for a “trail mix” of dried fruit and nuts. They were given the same product, but one group received it in a package labelled “trail mix”, while the other in a package that used the word “fitness” and an image of running shoes.

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The results were mixed for the most part, but the interesting data came from those participants in both groups who declared that they were watching their weight and undergoing some sort of diet, who ate much more from the package with the “fitness” branding on it than those in the other group. In fact, the stricter that person seemed to be with their diet, the more they ate from the “fitness snack”, with up to 200 calories more than their counterparts.

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Researchers have explained the phenomenon through the way consumers negotiate their pleasure/duty axis. When a food item is presented as being healthy or low in calories, the guilt associated with overindulging dissipates, making way for eating more than you would from a normal food of the same type.

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Depending on the food, this can actually completely cancel the effect of the weight plan, with the quantity of food making up for any dietary qualities it might have. This is obviously even worse in cases where the “fitness” label is stuck on items that are not actually fit for a diet, but is more a marketing ploy, leading to the consumer eating more and doing so with a light heart, being under the impression that “it doesn’t count”.

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