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September 28, 2012

Satiety claims on food: consumers expect no magic bullet to weight loss

What would you think when you read a claim such as 'increases fullness''or 'keeps you going between meals' on your favourite box of cereals? Would you simply expect an enhanced feeling of fullness after breakfast or do you think that after repeated consumption it will help you lose weight?

Fictional package with satiety claim
In Europe, satiety claims on food packages are strictly regulated. Before a claim can be put on a package, evidence to substantiate the claim needs to be submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA has two key criteria that have to be met before approval: (1) any claim should not go beyond the demonstrated evidence, and (2) the average consumer must be able to understand the effects expressed in the claim.

But does the 'average' consumer understand a satiety claim? Research on this question is limited. Satiety experts, however, fear overinterpretation of satiety claims, in the sense that consumers infer more health benefits from claims than promised. Some even worry for the 'magic bullet effect' in that consumers expect to lose weight, without any other personal efforts such as restricting calories or exercising.

Together with Ellen van Kleef, David Mela, Toine Hulshof and Hans van Trijp, I conducted a study in which 1504 consumers from Italy, UK, France and Germany were questioned about the meaning of satiety claims. Results of this study are published in the journal 'Appetite'. The paper is called 'Consumer understanding, interpretation and perceived levels of personal responsibility in relation to satiety-related claims'.

We discovered that most consumers very well understand satiety claims and stay close to their literal meaning. There was one exception. Consumers who tend to chronically restrict their eating to avoid becoming fat (the so-called restrained eaters), expected more benefits than actually stated in the claim. 

For various claims, we asked consumers whether they expected that the product will do the work for them or they themselves have to put in some personal efforts as well. The answer depended on the type of claim. 'Feeling full for a longer time' is something that consumers expect a product to deliver. In contrast, consumers realize that losing weight is something that a product cannot do for them. Most consumers know that personal sacrifices are required, with or without a little help of a satiety enhancing food. 


This is a guest post, written by Els Bilman (PhD student).

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Els M. Bilman, Ellen van Kleef, David J. Mela, Toine Hulshof, & Hans C.M. van Trijp (2012). Consumer understanding, interpretation and perceived levels of personal responsibility in relation to satiety-related claims Appetite DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.07.010

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