Why 'Fitness' Labeled Foods May Sabotage Your Diet

Foods labeled 'fitness' or 'fit' may cause increased calorie intake and decreased exercise

Looking to lose a few pounds? You may want to stay away from certain health foods.

A new study from Germany found that weight-conscious people who were offered foods branded with the words "fit" or "fitness" consumed more calories of the healthy-label option. Their workouts also suffered as a result.

According to the researchers, these types of food labels may be messing with consumers' minds.

"The more closely people associate a product with fitness or fit people, the less conflict there is between eating enjoyment and eating control," lead study author Jörg Königstorfer, PhD, of Technische Universität München (TUM), told USA Today. "People eat more because they feel a food is 'safe.'"

The culprits? Certain cereal bars, dairy products and sport drinks.

Dr. Königstorfer and team called out two brands specifically — Nestlé cereal bars and Kellogg cereal boxes — for depicting athletes on their wrappers. They call these strategies “fitness branding.”

Dr. Königstorfer and team pretended to be conducting a taste test for a new brand of trail mix — by giving participants either a packet labeled "Fitness Trail Mix" with a picture of a sneaker on the front or a neutral package of the same trail mix. Participants were then allowed eight minutes to sample and rate the products.

Those participants who received the fitness-labeled mix sampled an average of between 50 and 100 calories more trail mix than those who received the neutral-labeled mix.

Dr. Königstorfer and team also asked these participants to get on an exercise bike — to see how physically active they were after eating the trail mix. It was up to the participants how long they wanted to cycle.

The results, Dr. Königstorfer said, were surprising. Participants given the fitness mix were less active on average.

“Contrary to the principle of energy balance, “fitness-branded" food decreased physical activity, even after they consumed more food," Dr. Königstorfer told dailyRx News. "This was surprising since they should’ve been interested in burning off excess calories.”

This study was published July 7 in the Journal of Marketing.

Funding sources and conflicts of interest were not available at the time of publication.