Unbeknownst to consumers, current U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations allow food manufacturers some discretion in setting serving sizes. This discretion allows food marketers to report lower levels of negative nutrients (e.g., calories, fat, sodium) by simply reducing the serving size on nutritional label—a practice that the authors refer to as the health framing of nutritional information. The health framing of nutritional information should have no effect on consumer decision making when consumers (1) do not attend to nutritional information or (2) attend to nutritional information and “do the math” so that serving sizes are equivalent across brands. When consumers attend to nutritional information and fail to consider the serving size, the health framing of nutritional information can affect their judgments.
The authors find that the consumers who are most concerned about avoiding negative nutrients are most susceptible to the health framing of nutritional information. The studies show that health framing reduces the anticipated guilt of consumption and positively influences purchase intentions and choice for both healthy and unhealthy products. They also find that diet-oriented communications that encourage consumers to be conscientious about the negative nutrients in their diet exaggerate health framing effects. This leads to the counterintuitive finding that advocacies promoting healthy eating can result in poorer food choices when the health framing of nutritional information is common in a product category.
The managerial and public policy implications resulting from this research are seemingly at odds with each other. Manufacturers will be more effective marketers if they adjust the serving sizes of their products to minimize the amount of negative nutrients reported per serving. In contrast, public policy officials would promote more informed consumer choices by some combination of reducing the latitude manufacturers have in setting serving sizes, requiring manufacturers to report nutrient information on a per-unit weight basis (e.g., calories per ounce), and increasing consumer education regarding manufacturer use of health framing. In the absence of these changes, public policy officials should encourage consumers to calculate negative nutrients for a reasonable serving size to get a more accurate ideas of the health benefits and detriments of a specific product.
Gina S. Mohr is an Instructor of Marketing in the College of Business at Colorado State University. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Colorado at Boulder (2002) and a PhD in Marketing from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder (2009). Gina’s research focuses on consumer health and nutrition. Her recent research on consumer food consumption appears in Journal of Consumer Research.
Donald R. Lichtenstein is Provost Professor and Chair of the Marketing Division in the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He previously served on the faculty at Louisiana State University (1984–1988) and served in the role of Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Programs at the Leeds School of Business (1999–2002). He holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from the University of Alabama (1978) and a PhD in Marketing from the University of South Carolina (1984). He currently serves on the editorial review boards of Journal of Consumer Research and Journal of Marketing. His research has appeared in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, and Marketing Science. Most of his research is related to behavioral aspects of pricing and sales promotions, and he is the recipient of the 2004 Fordham Lifetime Achievement Award in Behavioral Pricing Research.
Chris Janiszewski is the Dasburg Chair in the Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida. His current research focuses on how people determine the utility of products and behaviors. Professor Janiszewski has published in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, and Journal of Consumer Research. He is a member of the editorial review boards of Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Marketing Research, and Journal of Marketing. He is past president of the Association for Consumer Research.
Journal of Marketing, Volume 76, Number 1, January 2012
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