You may be familiar with this sequence: One small-sized chocolate bar is a justifiable and well-deserved treat because calories per serving are so much lower compared to a regular bar. Then it seems OK to consume a second or a third, until your snacking represents a “fourth meal”.
A recent study empirically tests this phenomenon and investigates how the provision of calories-per-serving information on single-serve snack packages affects consumption:
- Lower than expected calories per serving backfire onconsumers’ consumption behaviour: They eat more of snacks they perceive as unhealthy compared to healthy snacks. This effect occurs especially with small serving sizes.
- Ironically, consumers who actively monitor their calorie intake, increase their intake of unhealthy snacks if they come in small packs.
- Doubling serving size has an unexpected effect: Consumers (whether calorie-conscious or not) decrease their actual consumption of indulgent snacks.
Why does this matter? Actual food intake per occasion is obviously a more accurate indicator of unhealthy food consumption than the calorie information provided by manufacturers (which, for small sizes, is often low). Especially for unhealthy snacks, the FDA calls for changing standard serving sizes to levels that reflect actual consumption behaviours. This would help consumers to make more informed choices and reduce calorie intake.
Source: Tangari, A. H., Bui, M., Haws, K. L., & Liu, P. J. (2019). That’s Not So Bad, I’ll Eat More! Backfire Effects of Calories-per-Serving Information on Snack Consumption. Journal of Marketing, 83(1), 133-150.