The Health Halo Effect
By Katie Hunsberger
Resolution season is in full swing. But don’t let all of your good intentions go to waste on the products highlighted by your local grocery store. Upon closer inspection, you might notice a disturbing trend: many of the “latest and greatest” products are for all intents and purposes nutritional wastelands that are unfortunately marketed and labeled to appear as wholesome choices for you and your family.
Big food companies such as Kellogg's, Nabisco, Nestle and General Mills have grown wise to
the fact that Americans are becoming more health conscious and are attempting to improve their diets.
Seeing an opportunity to cash in on the trend, these companies are slapping nutritional buzzwords like "natural," "organic," "gluten-free" or even "Paleo" onto product labels.
These buzzwords are in general nothing more than a feeble attempt to make their frankenfood appear more nutritious.
Let's get a few things straight here folks. The FDA has no clear cut definition of the term "natural," and therefore the term can be used on a label for virtually any product. The term "organic" refers to the manner in which a food is produced -- without the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and additives -- and while worthy does not describe the nutrition value of a food item.
Click through the slideshow for some particularly glaring examples. And keep reading afterwards for the botton line!
So the question is, are consumers actually falling for this blatantly deceitful marketing?
Unfortunately it appears that we are. According to a 2010 study published in the psychology journal Judgment and Decision Making, the majority of subjects believed that organic cookies were lower in calories than conventional cookies and thus could be eaten with greater frequency. Similarly, when considering a woman with a weight loss goal, the subjects believed forgoing her planned exercise regimen was more acceptable solely because she opted for an organic rather than conventional dessert.
It seems the “halo” of buzzwords like natural, healthy, and organic lead people to believe a food is lower calorie and therefore more acceptable to eat with reckless abandon. Marketers take full advantage of this misconception, simultaneously expanding the wallets of big food corporations and the waistlines of well-intentioned consumers. Don't let the label fool you, that organic junk is still junk.
Bottom line: Educate yourself. Like you learned in school, you can’t judge a book (or in this case a box) by its cover. Turn it over and read the ingredient list. Hint: if it has more than two ingredients and comes with a barcode, chances are it’s not the most healthful choice. It’s ok to have a little junk on occasion, but you have to acknowledge that it is in fact a treat and should not be the basis of your diet.
Instead, aim to make the majority of your diet whole, unprocessed foods as close to their natural state as possible.