When you walk down the aisles of a supermarket, it’s hard not to be attracted to the packages with bright colors and claims like “organic” and “fat-free”. Especially as health-conscious shoppers, it’s easy to get sucked into believing health halos when certain information is not even visible on labels.
Because of health halos, it’s often assumed that food products are healthier than they actually are. Extrapolating one health claim doesn’t mean you should assume the food follows other healthy standards.
Food labels can be deceiving.
Let’s use organic gummy bears in a sleek and vibrantly colored package as an example. The label makes it clear that they’re organic, but there’s nothing advertised about the sugar or fat content.
Studies show that when certain information isn’t known from a product’s packaging or nutrition label, consumers use inferences to assume the missing piece.
Labels that are more attractive to look at generally lead consumers to form better overall evaluations of the product. This, in turn, affects the inferences about what they may not know about the product.
Because the packaging is nice to look at, consumers may assume that the sugar and fat contents aren’t so bad.
Regardless of the packaging, because the gummy bears are marketed as organic, consumers are more likely to assume highly of other unrelated attributes.
This is a primary way health halos are created. Seeing “organic” on the label makes people think higher of a product on the amount of calories, fat and sugar without looking at the nutrition facts.
Health halos can make us eat more.
So now that you’ve bought these “healthy” gummy bears, we don’t feel as bad as you would if you had bought M&M’s for a snack. You’ve overestimated the healthfulness of the product, and now you feel less guilty eating the candy.
Instead of eating a handful of M&M’s because we know that they’re unhealthy, the entire bag of gummy bears is gone in one sitting.
This happens in restaurants too. If you eat at a restaurant that has a health halo, marketing their “fresh”, “all natural” and “quality ingredients”. You’ll be more likely to add side dishes and desserts, assuming that you’re eating an overall “healthier” meal.
Know how to debunk health halos.
Knowing a little more about the health claims we see may help dismiss the extrapolated health halos certain foods have.
Organic foods will be made with organically produced ingredients, but there may be the same fat, sugar and caloric content as a conventional food competitor.
Fat-free, sugar-free or low-calorie alternative products may have added filler ingredients or higher sugar contents to compensate for the change in taste from the conventional product.
Remembering that marketers don’t have the same goals as policy makers is important. Labels are constructed and product claims are designed to increase purchases, regardless of health concerns. Take an extra glance at food labels and make careful decisions on food choices.