Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Are Fruit Snacks Like Fruit? Children's and Parents' Evaluations of Deceptive Packaged Foods

Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Psychology/Developmental

First Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Laura Stafford (Other)

Third Advisor

Abby Braden (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jari G. Willing (Committee Member)

Abstract

Maintaining a healthy diet in the United States (US) poses unique challenges. The US food environment is laden with “ultra-processed” packaged foods – calorie dense, nutrient poor, and highly palatable foods – which are marketed in ways to make them seem healthier than they actually are. These deceptive packaged foods are deceptive for two major reasons: (1) deceptive features of the foods themselves (e.g., actual nutritional content), and (2) deceptive packaging (e.g., package design featuring fruits and vegetables, highlighting nutrition information). This study explored how types of deceptive foods (e.g., fruit/vegetable in the name, specific fruit/vegetable in the name, healthy reputation) and deceptive packaging (e.g., colorful, fruit/vegetable on package, farm scene) influence children’s and parents’ health and taste perceptions. Children (aged 6-8; N = 31) and parents (N = 29) participated in a food matching task. Target foods (deceptive foods) were presented alongside a healthy food and an unhealthy food. Children and parents indicated which food the target food was most similar to in terms of health and taste and indicated how much they would like to try target foods. Both parents and children were deceived by the health of deceptive foods. In terms of health and taste, children were deceived by most deceptive foods compared to non-deceptive foods whereas parents were generally influenced by foods with a healthy reputation in terms of health, taste, and willingness to try. Regarding packaging, children were more influenced by deceptive packaging than parents overall. Surprisingly, children indicated that they were most willing to try unpackaged foods and foods in fruit/vegetable packaging compared to other deceptive packaging strategies. Overall, this study supports previous findings around deceptive food strategies but also is an important addition to the current literature. Future studies might consider including information around deceptive foods and deceptive packaging strategies into interventions aimed at healthy eating.

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