In the global attempt to combat rising obesity rates, the introduction of health warning messages on food products is discussed as one possible approach. However, the perception of graphical health warning messages in the food context and the possible impact that they may have, in particular at the neuronal level, have hardly been studied. Therefore, the aim of this explorative study was to examine consumers’ reactions (measured as neuronal activity and subjective reporting) of two different types of graphical health warning messages on sweets compared to sweets without warning messages. One type used the red road traffic stop sign as graphical information (“Stop”), while the other one used shocking pictures (“Shock”), an approach similar to the images on cigarette packages. The neural response of 78 participants was examined with the neuroimaging technique functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Different hemodynamic responses in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the frontopolar cortex (FOC), and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) were observed, regions which are associated with reward evaluation, social behavior consequences, and self-control. Further, the health warning messages were actively and emotionally remembered by the participants. These findings point to an interesting health information strategy, which should be explored and discussed further.
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