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Eat Right And Stay Healthy – No One Said: “Eat Much”

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Alas, you’re likely to order more calories at a restaurant, when it claims to be ‘healthy’. An important new study from the Journal of Consumer Research explains one factor within the “American obesity paradox”: the parallel rise in obesity rates and the popularity of healthier food. In a series of four studies, the researchers reveal that American customers over-generalize “healthy” claims. In fact, consumers chose beverages, side dishes, and desserts containing up to 131% more calories when the main dish was positioned as “healthy”.


In the study, consumers chose 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. (Credit: iStockphoto)

“In our black and white view, most food is good or not good,” explain Pierre Chandon (INSEAD, France) and Brian Wansink (Cornell University). “When we see a fast-food restaurant like Subway advertising its low-calorie sandwiches, we think, ‘It’s OK: I can eat a sandwich there and then have a high-calorie dessert,’ when, in fact, some Subway sandwiches contain more calories than a Big Mac.”

In one study, Chandon and Wansink had consumers guess how many calories are in sandwiches from two restaurants. They estimated that sandwiches contain 35% fewer calories when they come from restaurants claiming to be healthy than when they are from restaurants not making this claim.

The result of this calorie underestimation? Consumers then chose 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.

“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,” the authors write.

What should people and health agencies do” In the final study, the researchers show that encouraging people to examine whether the restaurant’s health claims actually apply to the particular food they ordered eliminates the “health halo” effects.

As they explain: “More generally, we need 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?”).”

These results are certainly so culturally determined, that they are not applying outside their original cultural background. Traditional French or Italian culture are not assessing ffood in a perspective of calories altogether, hence consumers there are much less likely to fall for high caloric addups to perceivedly healthy main courses.

Even for American customer behaviour the quoted author’s reading is not complete. Beyond the perception bias of a health halo, first of all there seems to be an odd equation in place: “healthy = low calory”. This is not medical nonsense, in the first place. And it is highly likely to lead to a second mental frame: “healthy = little food”. Under this perspective, it is not the health halo that drives the consumers decision about side dishes, but their perception of giving up quality consumption with the main dish, so that they deserve a hearty addup at least. Hence those two fallacious equations mar the public health efforts against epidemic obesity, as long as healthy will not be perceived as yummie in the first place. Next to other answers to the ultimate question of overweight, a look back to Bandura’s and his followers’ research would do no harm at all. Best corellating with a desired behavioural change are not risk perception and risk avoidance, but self-efficacy and outcome expectancy. Regarding the latter with obese and heavily obese people, there is no paradox at all in the “American obesity paradox”.

JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. · Vol. 34 · October 2007


The Biasing Health Halos of Fast-Food Restaurant Health Claims: Lower Calorie Estimates and Higher Side-Dish Consumption Intentions


PIERRE CHANDON; BRIAN WANSINK

Why is America a land of low-calorie food claims yet high-calorie food intake? Four studies show that people are more likely to underestimate the caloric content of main dishes and to choose higher-calorie side dishes, drinks, or desserts when fast-food restaurants claim to be healthy (e.g., Subway) compared to when they do not (e.g., McDonald’s). We also find that the effect of these health halos can be eliminated by simply asking people to consider whether the opposite of such health claims may be true. 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. They also suggest innovative strategies for consumers, marketers, and policy makers searching for ways to fight obesity.

Written by huehueteotl

September 5, 2007 at 1:51 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] huehueteotl wrote a fantastic post today on “Eat Right And Stay Healthy – No One Said: âEat Muchâ”Here’s ONLY a quick extractAn important new study from the Journal of Consumer Research explains one factor within the “American obesity paradox”: the parallel rise in obesity rates and the popularity of healthier food. In a series of four studies, … […]

  2. […] Eat Right And Stay Healthy – No One Said: “Eat Much” […]

  3. Very well said. I for no reason considered I would agree with this thoughts and opinions, however I’m starting to view things from a different view. I have got to research much more on that as it would seem really exciting. One issue I don’t understand though is how almost everything is associated together.

    stayhealthys

    March 4, 2011 at 11:55 am


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