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Just using the word 'snack' can make you fat

  • In a small study published in the journal Appetite, researchers from the University of Surrey studied how eating behavior is influenced when food is presented using the word snack or meal.
  • These findings are especially relevant as our increasingly busy lives lead to a shift toward eating grab-and-go items, study author Jane Ogden said in a statement.
A woman leaves a McDonald's restaurant on the Coney Island boardwalk in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Getty Images
A woman leaves a McDonald's restaurant on the Coney Island boardwalk in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

It's no secret that Americans often overeat and, whether we want to admit it or not, food marketing plays a major role. Now a new study reveals that just seeing the word "snack" on a food label may lead consumers to eat more.

In a small study published in the journal Appetite, researchers from the University of Surrey studied how eating behavior is influenced when food is presented using the word snack or meal. The team recruited 80 female students from the U.K. who were predominantly white. The women were split into one of several groups: eating pasta labeled as a "snack" or "meal," and eating pasta while either standing or sitting at a table. Afterward, the participants were presented with unhealthy snack foods, including M&M's, chocolate-flavored animal crackers, and cheddar crackers.

While previous studies have shown that Americans are snacking more frequently than in past decades, current research reveals a couple factors that could be influencing the habit. Eating food labeled as a "snack" and eating a "snack" while standing up led participants to eat more, compared to those who ate food deemed a "meal" and those who ate while sitting at a table.

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These findings are especially relevant as our increasingly busy lives lead to a shift toward eating grab-and-go items, study author Jane Ogden said in a statement.

"Ideally the food industry should stop marketing high-calorie foods as snacks and employers should encourage workers to take lunch breaks," Ogden, a health psychology professor at the University of Surrey, in England, told Newsweek via email. "But until this time, as consumers we should label our own food in our heads as meals and take time to sit down and eat it!"

Nutrition experts are divided on the benefits of snacking, but those who are for it say it helps to curb appetite. But, of course, snacking too often can take a toll on your health.

"These results support the notion of eating behavior as a psychological process and suggest that whilst food intake is influenced by both cognition and the food environment, aspects of cognition including distraction, memory and language exist in a dynamic and iterative relationship with the world we live in," Ogden and her colleagues conclude in their paper.