University of Minnesota researchers say that people are more likely to purchase a healthy food if it is labeled with a symbol suggesting it is healthy, as opposed to having the actual word healthy on it.
Lead researcher Dr. Traci Mann of the University of Minnesota, had this to say:
“The word ‘healthy’ seems to turn people off, particularly when it appears on foods that are obviously healthy. The subtle health message, such as the healthy heart symbol, seemed to be more effective at leading people to choose a healthy option.”
One of Mann’s studies involved 400 adults in a lab setting, where 65% of the participants took an apple instead of candy if there was a heart symbol on it. Only 45% of adults chose an apple if the fruit was labeled with the word healthy.
Food Psychology: How Children Ate 4x More Broccoli
In another study involving 300 adults and carrots, Mann and her colleagues found just 20% of participants chose carrots over chips when the carrots had healthy on them. But when the carrots were labeled with a heart symbol, 30% of the adults chose them over candy.
The researchers also took their experiments to elementary school cafeterias. They found children were 4 times more likely to eat broccoli or red peppers if the vegetables were served first. The students were far less likely to choose the vegetables when they were served alongside other food offerings. The team got the same results when they tried the experiment in a lab setting and offered various snack foods alongside veggies.
The findings were presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s 17th Annual Convention in San Diego.
“What these results show us is that rather than leading dieters to make healthier choices, these food police messages are actually making unhealthy foods even more enticing to dieters,” said researcher Nguyen Pham of Arizona State University.
‘A Real Danger’
According to the team from Arizona State, there is “a real danger in using messages that convey only negative information about food.” One can only assume when researchers refer to “negative information,” they mean many people think healthy food is flavorless and unsatisfying.
Researcher Naomi Mandel said:
“Our work shows that negative messages about unhealthy food will backfire among dieters. If you want to change what they eat, a more even-handed message that contains both positive and negative information is the way to go.”
‘Tricking the brain’ can be a useful tool. I pulverize fresh spinach and put it in my spaghetti sauce to trick my leafy-greens-hating hubby into eating it. He thinks all that green stuff is just herbs and spices. If he saw me do it or I called it spinach pasta sauce, he’d never eat it.
It’s kind of like telling little kids they’re eating baby trees instead of broccoli. (It works with my nieces and nephews.)