Food Scented Products Leading to Obesity?

August 04, 2011

Are food scented products making us overeat? Find out what researchers found in a new study that reviewed a chocolate scented lotion

We are surrounded by food cues, whether it’s the bakery down the street with the fresh baked bread in the windows and the smell of fresh muffins as you walk by, TV commercials that might not even be selling food (but have people eating), or the coffee and doughnut shop on every corner. It’s hard to determine when it’s time to eat and when it’s not and how much is enough. Our brains are constantly stimulated by the idea of food, and a recent study published in Food Quality and Preference suggests that increased exposure to non-food products, labeled and scented like foods, may actually increase our overall intake.

Head to the health and beauty aisle or the home cleaning aisle where you are sure to find chocolate or vanilla scented lotion, coconut or cake scented shampoo, fruit scented candles and cleaning products like hand soap. The new study from Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that these non-food items might be a factor in the obesity crisis because of their material influence on consumption. 

Many of these products are marketed as a way to enjoy the indulgence, for example cake icing, chocolate, cheescake, etc, without the calories. The study’s authors comment that, “The current research indicates that conscious exposure to chocolate-related products (or labeled chocolate-scented products) increases intake.”

The study tested whether participants were affected by a lotion that was labeled as chocolate or one that was unlabeled, and their subsequent chocolate chip cookie intake. Researchers found that those who knew they were evaluating a chocolate-scented lotion ate more than those exposed to the unlabeled lotion. Those who were not exposed to a lotion but only to chocolate chip cookies ate the same amount as those who were exposed to the unlabeled lotion, indicating to researchers that the scent alone was not sufficient to influence intake. Researchers did conclude that the study’s findings suggest that the conscious exposure to chocolate-related products may increase intake.

Our environment has a big influence on our behaviors and norms, most notably on our food intake including the types of foods we choose. As we come to realize the many facets of the obesity crisis, we have even more reason to continue to be vigilant about reading labels and listening to our bodies.