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'Fitness' Foods Make You Eat More and Work Out Less

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Foods that are branded with a "fitness" angle may actually be detrimental to health and weight loss efforts, according to a new study.

Researchers from the American Marketing Association found that products like Wheaties, Gatorade or Clif Bars may encourage consumers to eat more and exercise less, suggesting that labeling and wording on food products can play a significant role in how people approach their diets.

"Unless a food was forbidden by their diet, branding the product as 'fit' increased consumption for those trying to watch their weight," the study authors wrote in the Journal of Marketing Research. "To make matters worse, these eaters also reduced their physical activity, apparently seeing the 'fit' food as a substitute for exercise."

The study specifically included participants who were considered "restrained eaters" - those who are consistently concerned about their weight.

Buyer beware

Participants were given snacks that were marked with either "fitness" or "trail mix." The "fitness" snacks also included a picture of running shoes on the packaging.

The subjects were monitored for their food consumption and how long they exercised on a stationary bike after eating the snack. Those who ate the "fitness" snacks expended less energy during the exercise phase and also ate more of the snacks.

"It is important that more emphasis be placed on monitoring fitness cues in marketing," the authors wrote. "For example, a brand could offer gym vouchers or exercise tips instead of just implying fitness via a label or image. Reminding the consumer that exercise is still necessary may help counteract the negative effect of these fitness-branded foods."

Source: Journal of Marketing Research