Mystification and Obfuscation in portion sizes in UK food products

Isabelle Szmigin, Veronica Gee

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There has been concern expressed as to how obesity is framed as an individual responsibility easily solved with common sense. Such research has questioned the appropriateness of a size-based emphasis to public health. Moving away from the emphasis on the individual this paper critically reviews consumer marketing techniques in the presentation of portion sizes, given what is known about human cognitive and physical limitations around food choice. Through a micro study of portion size in three products, cereals, cereal bars and yoghurts, claims are made regarding marketing techniques of obfuscation in portion size presentation that at a macro level link to earlier critiques of marketing mystification. Findings suggest a number of specific obfuscators that could lead to passive overconsumption. The paper concludes that regulators should shift their emphasis away from the individual to examining marketing techniques of obfuscation. Where information is presented it should be more appropriate and consistent across brands within a product category.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-184
JournalJournal of Business Research
Early online date8 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


  • marketing mystification
  • Portion size
  • calorie obfuscation
  • passive overconsumption
  • individual responsibility


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