Stealth Gecko

Stealth Health Study Suggests Less Can Be More

Walmart Great For You SealSo many food products call out to us with health claims. Lowfat! Light and fit! No added sugar! The not so subtle suggestion is to buy more, and thus, eat more. But there’s another strategy under consideration by industry and health advocates: stealth health. A new study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition suggests that such a tool can nudge people toward consuming fewer calories.

Silent Reformulation for Less Calorie Density

The study used an ecologic design to assess the effects of reformulating foods to have fewer calories in a typical serving – without calling out the change to consumers. The authors call it “silent reformulation.”

They analyzed a year of sales data in a Danish food chain in eight product categories. During that year, the chain reformulated some of its private label products to have lower energy density – less calories.  The result? The number of calories sold went down.

The effect on sales revenue was variable. In one category – mayonnaise – sales went up by 0.4% while calories went down by 7.5%. In two categories – toasting buns and whole grain rolls – sales went down by 0.5 and 0.1% respectively. Sales in the other five categories did not change significantly.

Pressure to Push Fewer Calories

Using health claims to sell more food can have the perverse effect of promoting unhealthy patterns of overconsumption. This study points to the viability of an alternative that health advocates are pushing. This strategy is gaining support from the food industry. Responding to calls from Public Health England, a spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation recently said:

Our industry has a proud track record of reformulation to remove salt, fat and sugar from food and drinks. This work will continue as we rise to the challenge of PHE’s sugar reduction targets and engage with this new focus on calories.

This work suggests that smart people can find solutions that will work for both public health and for the food industry. After decades of rising obesity rates, it’s past due.

Click here for the study and here for more from Food Navigator. For more on food and menu reformulation initiatives, click here, here, here, and here.

Stealth Gecko, photograph © Ken Bosma / flickr

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September 1, 2017

2 Responses to “Stealth Health Study Suggests Less Can Be More”

  1. September 01, 2017 at 2:35 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Very interesting! Now how do we get the food producers on board?

  2. September 01, 2017 at 4:41 pm, Ted said:

    Well, they are on board in Europe and a number are working on this here through the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.