Foods labelled as ‘meals’ rather than ‘snacks’ prevent overeating

Marketing food as a “snack” leads to increased consumption and continued overeating, according to new research published in the journal Appetite.

Eighty people were asked to eat a pasta pot. This was either labelled as a “snack” or “meal”, or presented as a snack (eaten standing up from a plastic pot with a plastic fork) or meal (seated at a table from a ceramic plate and metal fork).

Participants were then invited to take part in an additional taste test of different foods (animal biscuits, hula hoops, M&M’s and mini cheddars).

The researchers discovered that those who had eaten pasta labelled as a snack ate more sweet foods at the taste test than those who had been offered a meal. They also discovered that those who ate the snack standing up consumed more than those who had eaten the pasta sitting down at a table.

Professor Jane Ogden and her team at the University of Surrey attributed the findings to a combination of factors. They hypothesised that when eating a snack people are more easily distracted and may not be conscious of consumption. They also argued that memories for snacks and meals might be encoded differently in people’s subconscious making it harder to recall what has been consumed as a snack.

Busier lives have resulted in increasing numbers of people eating on the go, and consuming foods that are labelled as snacks to sustain them.

“What we have found is that those who are consuming snacks are more likely to overeat as they may not realise or even remember what they have eaten,” said Professor Ogden. “To overcome this we should call our food a meal and eat it as meal, helping make us more aware of what we are eating so that we don’t overeat later on.”

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