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Perceived ‘healthiness’ of foods can influence consumers’ estimations of energy density and appropriate portion size




To compare portion size (PS) estimates, perceived energy density (ED) and anticipated consumption guilt (ACG) for healthier vs standard foods.


Three pairs of isoenergy dense (kJ per 100 g) foods—healthier vs standard cereals, drinks and coleslaws—were selected. For each food, subjects served an appropriate PS for themselves and estimated its ED. Subjects also rated their ACG about eating the food on a scale of 1 (not at all guilty) to 5 (very guilty).


Subjects (n=186) estimated larger portions of the healthier coleslaw than that of the standard version, and perceived all healthier foods to be lower in ED than their standard alternatives, despite being isoenergy dense. Higher ACG was associated with the standard foods. Portion estimates were generally larger than recommendations and the ED of the foods was underestimated.


The larger portions selected for the ‘reduced fat’ food in association with lower perceived ED and ACG suggests that such nutrition claims could be promoting inappropriate PS selection and consumption behaviour. Consumer education on appropriate portions is warranted to correct such misconceptions.

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We thank Miss Liona Gormley, Miss Aisling Cowan, Miss Tara Hamilton and Miss Cheryl Conway for helping with data collection. GPF was involved in the recruitment, data collection, analysis and write-up of the paper; MBEL, JMWW and TAMcC designed the study protocol; LKP, MAK, TAMcC and MBEL provided guidance on analysis and commented on drafts of the manuscript. PhD sponsorship was obtained from the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland. This material is based on works supported by safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board, under Grant number 07-2010.

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Correspondence to M B E Livingstone.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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We dedicate this article to the memory of our colleague Professor Julie Wallace (7 April 1971–7 February 2012).

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Faulkner, G., Pourshahidi, L., Wallace, J. et al. Perceived ‘healthiness’ of foods can influence consumers’ estimations of energy density and appropriate portion size. Int J Obes 38, 106–112 (2014).

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  • food portion size
  • food serving size
  • nutrition claims
  • healthy
  • energy density

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