Candy Bars with Lots of Protein

Step right up. Bobo’s is ready to sell us a great new health halo in “a new line of protein bars made with simple, clean ingredients and packed with 15 grams of protein.” They’re solving an obvious problem. “In the protein bar aisle, consumers often find themselves overwhelmed with dozens of over-engineered bar options made with unrecognizable ingredients.” Now, at last, we can stroll on down that aisle, go straight for the Bobo section, and get our candy bars packed with protein to fuel our healthy, active lifestyles. No more worries about all that bad stuff.

But here comes the buzzkill. Dani Blum and an assortment of nutrition professionals tell us that these flourishing snack bars sell us more halo than health. Emerita professor Marion Nestle explains that by eating protein bars, “people think they’re doing something good for their health.” In fact, though, we’re just eating “candy bars with a lot more protein,” says professor Eric Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Selling Health Halos

Research by Catherine Fernan, Jonathon Schuldt, and Jeff Niederdeppe tells us that the health halo effect can be pretty potent for selling protein bars. They studied the differences in consumer perceptions between a product called a “Zing Bar” and a “Zing Protein Bar.” Adding protein to the name adds a health halo that doesn’t fade easily:

“Although the presence of a traffic light warning label increased perceived sugar and calorie content, it did not counteract the effect of the product title on perceived healthfulness.”

“Protein” in the name leads consumers to believe it has more nutrients like fiber and iron, too. As if food marketers need more tools, FDA is stepping up to offer them another. The agency is working away on the specs for an officially sanctioned claim to go on foods deemed “healthy.” A seal of approval. A more potent health halo.

These health halos serve only one purpose – to sell more food, for more occasions, in more places, with more reasons to assure you not to worry about overconsumption. It’s good for you. Have another.

Click here for Blum’s thoughts about these protein-packed candy bars and here for the research from Fernan, Jonathon Schuldt, and Jeff Niederdeppe.

Snacking, photograph by Sodanie Chea, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


January 21, 2023

2 Responses to “Candy Bars with Lots of Protein”

  1. January 21, 2023 at 9:57 am, John DiTraglia said:

    Turns out protein may be bad for you – right up there with carbs and fat.

    • January 21, 2023 at 11:18 am, Ted said:

      And in excess, so too is water.