Perceiving Food As Healthy Often Encourages Overeating

4 10 2007

A recent study from the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that people usually over-generalize “healthy” claims. This research has shown that consumers choose beverages, side dishes, and desserts containing up to 131% more calories when the main dish is positioned as “healthy”.

People tend to have a black and white view, classifying food simply as good or not good. If we see a fast-food restaurant advertising low-calorie products, we think, ‘It’s OK: I can eat something there and then have a high-calorie dessert,’ when, in fact, many of this products contain more calories than a Big Mac.

The study show us how the result of this calorie underestimation translates in consumers choosing beverages, side dishes, and desserts containing up to 131% more calories when the main course was positioned as “healthy” compared to when it was not. Even though, in the study, the “healthy” main course already contained 50% more calories than the “unhealthy” one.

The authors stated that “These studies help explain why the success of fast-food restaurants serving lower-calorie foods has not led to the expected reduction in total calorie intake and in obesity rates”.

Researchers believe that agencies should encourage people to examine whether the restaurant’s health claims actually apply to the particular food they ordered, eliminating then the “health halo” effects.

People need to learn to think about food not just qualitatively (as in “good food — bad food”) but also quantitatively (as in “how many calories are in this meal?”). But to achieve that, there’s need of more nutritional education, which should be provided by the professionals in this field –dietitians–.

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