A new study indicates that a name change for a food product may actually change our perception of its health benefits.
A piece in the The Journal of Consumer Research shows that consumers looking to make "healthy" choices can be easily misled into making unhealthy choices by focusing on the wrong names for foods.
Apples, for instance, are seen as more healthy than cupcakes. But what happens when we start calling milkshakes "smoothies?" Or potato chips turn into "veggie chips?" Or sugary drinks get called "flavored water?"
The study presented subjects with a "pre-prepared mixture of vegetables, pasta, salami, and cheese, served on a bed of romaine lettuce." When the dish was labeled "pasta" it was rated as being less healthy than when it was called a "salad." Dieters also choose candies that were called "fruit chews" over those called "candy chews" - and ate more of them.
The bottom line is that dieters try to avoid unhealthy foods rather than seek out healthy ones. They are "more sensitive to certain taboo food names - like pasta, ice cream, potato chips and candy - than people who aren't constantly watching their weight" and can actually wind up eating more junk food than those who don't have this bias.
Dieters focus on the name of the product they are eating over the ingredients, and this means that it is easy to deceive them. As one blogger points out, "The joke may be on us."
But of course, marketers know this. Organic food, for example, is often considered healthier than its non-organic counterpart - even when it's not.
The magic word "organic," which I have written about before is meaningless, benefits from the "halo-effect" that enables sub-par foods to be considered healthier than they really are.
This effect is best seen, as Walletpop points out, when we see a person wearing a pocket protector and glasses and assume he is intelligent, or judge a blonde person as having a "joie d' vivre."
Smoothies and salads are almost always seen as being better for you than chips and pasta... even when they are not. Changing the name on products that get the "horned effect" (my term) may actually increase sales among the very people who call themselves dieters.
I'm going to go have some cookies now... I mean organic oat cakes. :)
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