Calories in context: Conceptual metaphors and consumers’ perception and use of calorie information

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Journal of Health Communication






The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently made changes to the nutrition facts label so that calories will be emphasized over all other nutrient information (U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2016a, August 3). In light of calories’ increased visibility, strategic health communicators need to understand both how individuals perceive calorie information and how calories influence consumption decisions. Therefore, a qualitative study was conducted to analyze the metaphors that structure consumers’ thoughts about calorie information and food choices. In-depth interviews were conducted with 34 women from diverse racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Through the interviews and subsequent thematic analysis, metaphors were gathered that explained perceptions of different kinds of calories and how calories function in the diet. Five conceptual metaphors were uncovered. The metaphors individuals used varied based on their eating paradigms, and the metaphors were related to different approaches to consumption decisions. The implications of using these different calorie metaphors for translational communication interventions are further discussed.


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