Food scented products may play role in obesity epidemic: Study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Eating, Nutrition

Non-food products that are produced to smell like food, such as chocolate or fruit scented personal care products, may increase food intake and lead to obesity, according to new research.

The study, published in Food Quality and Preference, ​suggests that increased exposure to products labelled and scented like foods may increase intake of those foods, and therefore “may be a part of the obesogenic environment.”

“Food-related cues can increase intake; therefore, it was anticipated that conscious exposure to food-scented products could also influence consumption,” ​said the authors, led by Jennifer Coelho from Maastricht University, the Netherlands.

The authors added that food-scented personal care products have been marketed as “a way to enjoy chocolate without the calories.”

“However, the current research indicates that conscious exposure to chocolate-related products (or labelled chocolate-scented products) increases intake,”​ they said.

Food cues

The researchers noted that the increase in the prevalence of obesity is leading scientists to investigate the role of the ‘obesogenic’ environment on eating behaviour.

“The pervasiveness of exposure to food-related cues is concerning, given that exposure to food cues increases subsequent food intake. For example, exposure to the smell of pizza increases subsequent pizza intake, particularly in chronic dieters,”​ said the authors.

“Similarly, exposure to the taste and sight of food stimulated desire to eat and intake, even when participants ate to satiation just prior to food-cue exposure,”​ they added.

Coelho and her co-workers said that such findings suggest that food-cue exposure “can encourage superfluous intake”​, and therefore may play an important role in potential weight gain.

They added that whilst food-scented products are widely available, “it is unclear whether they influence eating behaviour.”

Study details

Fifty eight female participants were randomly assigned to an exposure condition of either labelled chocolate lotion, unlabeled chocolate lotion, or unscented lotion, and their subsequent intake of chocolate-chip cookies was measured.

A significant effect of condition on intake emerged.

Coelho and her colleagues noted that those who knew that they were evaluating a chocolate-scented lotion ate more than those exposed to the same unlabeled lotion, “suggesting that conscious exposure to chocolate-related products may increase food intake.”

“There were no differences in intake between the controls and those exposed to the unlabeled chocolate lotion, indicating that the scent alone was not sufficient to influence intake,”​ they added.

Further research into the effects of food-scented products on cravings and eating behaviour, and the role of labelling the scent is needed, said Coelho and her team.

Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2011.06.008
“Sweet Temptation: Effects of Exposure to Chocolate-Scented Lotion on Food Intake”
Authors: J.S. Coelho, A. Idler, C. Werle, A. Jansen

Related topics: The obesity problem, R&D

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