Trained against “diet”

Scientists at the University of Alberta recently published results of an animal-based designed to test the efficacy of diet foods. “Animals have the ability to sense the caloric value of food they take in,” says David Pierce, lead researcher. “We found out that an animal can learn to use flavors to predict calories in an attempt to achieve energy balance.” Pierce fed his rats diet foods and full calorie foods, and then gave them full calorie foods that had a diet flavor. The animals’ bodies responded by assuming a calorie deprivation, so they overate at the next feeding to make up for it. The relevance to humans is a growing belief that, the more “diet” foods one consumes, the more the body grasps at the next opportunity to make up for calories lost.

However, another study may provide the solution.

Kids who were given food, even healthy food like carrots, said they preferred its taste to plain bag foods when it was wrapped in a McDonald’s container, according to a paper published by the Stanford University.

Could we as marketers encourage kids (backhandedly, albeit) to eat healthier by tricking them with the brands they already associate with good taste? If the body can train itself to categorize tastes as diet or not, as well as train itself to prefer foods that are visually associated with good flavor, then wouldn’t it work to leverage brand equities to help kids eat better and override that taste association?

Might be a particularly salient issue for the cereal industry, whose brands kids know and love, but are now faced with strapped sugar, fat and sodium content regulation.