A review of the impact of decision heuristics on calorie underestimation and the implications for unhealthy eating

Ziang Wang, T Begho

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Abstract

Purpose
The global rise in obesity can be closely linked to excessive calorie consumption and misperceptions regarding food intake. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to review the existing literature to have a better understanding how heuristic cues – mental shortcuts used for decision-making – impact calorie underestimation and consequently lead to unhealthy eating habits.

Design/methodology/approach
A search was conducted across multiple databases with priority given to studies in developed countries that provided insights into the cognitive processes behind food choices, the application of specific heuristics, and the association with eating behaviours. Articles were also selected based on their methodological quality.

Findings
The main findings are that the dichotomous categorization of foods as healthy or unhealthy can result in underestimating the calorie content in those foods perceived as healthy. Although nutrition claims, health claims and campaigns help in the fight against obesity, there is also the risk that consumers’ reliance on heuristic-based decision-making could aggravate the problem because a misinterpretation or misrepresentation could lead to calorie underestimation and overeating.

Practical implications
To establish effective behavioural interventions for obesity prevalence, it is critical for interventions and policies to understand how consumers perceive calorie content and how they interpret claims on food marketing or packaging. Recognizing and addressing these heuristic-driven biases and understanding the factors influencing food choices are crucial for encouraging healthier eating habits.

Originality/value
To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper is the only review to date that consolidates research on the topic, drawing from multiple disciplines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalNutrition and Food Science
Early online date12 Mar 2024
DOIs
Publication statusFirst published - 12 Mar 2024

Keywords

  • Biases
  • dietary choices
  • food decision-making
  • overconsumption
  • obesity

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