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Back to Symposium 2011

Impact of Nutrition Claims and Food Perceptions on Consumer Behaviour

The importance of eating well is a growing daily concern among Canadians, and the nutritional information displayed on food labels is therefore an essential tool for them. What does “healthy” eating mean to consumers? And how do they interpret and use the nutritional information they are given?

The complex nature of nutritional information causes a degree of confusion among consumers, leading them to sometimes misinterpret the nutritional value of certain foods. Scientific literature shows that different factors can lead people to categorize food as good or bad for their health (e.g. the quantity of fat, myths about eating, relative claims about nutritional content). As a result, the number of calories in food perceived as good for one’s health is often underestimated, while the number of calories in food perceived as less healthy is overestimated. This perception of a food’s “health attributes” can therefore have consequences on the quantity of food consumed, often leading to a certain type of overconsumption.

Knowing how to manage nutritional information and put theory into practice is therefore not always simple. Thinking that a certain food is good for one’s health could create a false feeling of security, instilling the belief that this food alone is sufficient to maintain good health.

In truth, eating healthy involves a number of complex behavioural elements that represent much more than the nutritional characteristics of food. In fact, the act of eating is influenced by multiple different factors, such as cognition, the senses and emotions. Healthy eating must therefore be seen within its global context, accounting for the nutritional, gastronomic, cultural and emotional values of each item of food that forms its constituent parts.

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