Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health

By Temple Northup.

Published by Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: March 28, 2014 $US5.00

The United States is facing a serious problem: over the past generation, there has been a steady increase in the size of the average American and the rate of obesity is at an all-time high. Although there are a number of causes that can be attributed to this increase, one is a poor overall diet. Because many consumers are beginning to change to a more nutritious diet, food corporations have begun marketing unhealthy foods as healthy by labeling them as “organic,” “whole grain,” or any combination of other health-related buzzwords. Using manipulated food packaging, this article presents the results of a study examining the degree to which consumers link those marketing terms with health. Results suggest that consumers have a heavy association between those marketing terms and health and tend to think the products containing those words are healthier than those products without them. Furthermore, consumers perform poorly when asked to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy nutritional labels. The implications of this are profound: while many individuals may be trying to increase the health of their diets, food marketers are taking advantage of them by misleading those consumers with deceptive labeling.

Keywords: Food Marketing, Food Labeling

Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1, March 2014, pp.9-18. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: March 28, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 504.824KB)).

Dr. Temple Northup

Assistant Professor, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA

Temple Northup is an assistant professor in the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston and co-director of the University’s Gulf Coast Food Project ( Dr. Northup received his B.A. in anthropology from Wake Forest University, his M.A. in media studies from Syracuse University, and his Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Dr. Northup’s research focuses on how mediated messages and visual information can influence and bias our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.