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Men more likely to watch fat in food than women

MEN ARE more calorie conscious and concerned about low-fat labels on food than women, and eat less if food is labelled as high in fat, research shows.

A study of eating habits found that men, who said they were not inclined to eat low-fat foods, were more influenced by false labels than women, and reported less hunger and snacked less after eating food wrongly labelled high in calories and fat. Nutritionists believe the findings show that men are secretly trying to take control of health and becoming morebody conscious.

"We have been led to believe that women are more tuned into healthy eating than men," said Gaynor Bussell, lecturer in nutrition at City University and member of the British Dietetic Association. "This research shows that men are starting to take control of their own health, even if they won't admit it. The upsurge in men's magazines with health-conscious articles is starting to have an impact."

The study showed that men given a low-fat, low-calorie lunch that was falsely labelled high in fat and calories reported less hunger and ate fewer snacks later than when they were given the same lunch rightly labelled low fat/low calorie. The women ate the same amount of snacks regardless of the labelling or actual fat and calorie content of their lunch.

"Even though we expected the calorie-conscious females to be more responsive to written and verbal cues, it was the males who paid attention to the labels," said Dr Steven Specter, assistant professor of nutrition at the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State University, Pennsylvania.

Dr Specter, the study's author, said one possible reason the men were more influenced by the labels was because noticing fat and calorie content was new behaviour for them.

Low-fat, low-calorie foods had a greater psychological impact on the women, who found them more satisfying and liked them more. But neither sex could tell the difference between low-fat or full-fat foods; both rated lunches labelled "low fat/low calorie" as less rich even when the food was full fat.

The study, presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity meeting in Charleston, South Carolina yesterday, was the first to involve normally eaten foods in which the calorie content was halved in the low-fat versus the visually-identical high-fat lunch.

The subjects lunched in afood laboratory on four days, eating either the full-fat lunch or the visually identical fat-modified version. At 4.45pm they returned to the lab, where each remained in a secluded booth for 90 minutes to consider and - if they wanted - snack from from a range of foods.

"The data suggest that cognitive cues such as label information can influence subjective ratings, including `liking', `satisfaction' and hunger, for both genders," said Dr Specter.