Perceived 'healthiness' of foods can influence consumers' estimations of energy density and appropriate portion size

Int J Obes (Lond). 2014 Jan;38(1):106-12. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.69. Epub 2013 May 7.


Objective: To compare portion size (PS) estimates, perceived energy density (ED) and anticipated consumption guilt (ACG) for healthier vs standard foods.

Methods: Three pairs of isoenergy dense (kJ per 100 g) foods-healthier vs standard cereals, drinks and coleslaws-were selected. For each food, subjects served an appropriate PS for themselves and estimated its ED. Subjects also rated their ACG about eating the food on a scale of 1 (not at all guilty) to 5 (very guilty).

Results: Subjects (n=186) estimated larger portions of the healthier coleslaw than that of the standard version, and perceived all healthier foods to be lower in ED than their standard alternatives, despite being isoenergy dense. Higher ACG was associated with the standard foods. Portion estimates were generally larger than recommendations and the ED of the foods was underestimated.

Conclusions: The larger portions selected for the 'reduced fat' food in association with lower perceived ED and ACG suggests that such nutrition claims could be promoting inappropriate PS selection and consumption behaviour. Consumer education on appropriate portions is warranted to correct such misconceptions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Commerce*
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Energy Intake*
  • Europe
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food Industry
  • Food Preferences
  • Food, Fortified
  • Food, Organic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Nutritive Value
  • Perception
  • Portion Size* / psychology
  • Public Health*
  • United States