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“Health Halo” Effect

As rates of overweight and obese Americans have reached record-levels, advertising claims have become more common on the fronts of food packaging, creating concerns that they may lead consumers to see foods as healthier than they really are (Brownell & Horgen, 2004; Nestle, 2002; Pomeranz, 2001). The effects of marketing can be significant because nutrition claims made on packaging can create “health halos” that make foods appear healthier than they are, leading to higher consumption yet lower perceived calorie intake. It is important to understand that influence of nutrition claims (e.g. “low fat”, “high fiber”) on health-related judgments and decisions.   The effects of health claims on packaging is seen in a study done by Wansink and Chandon (2006) found that labeling both “healthy” and “unhealthy” food as “low fat” reduced calorie estimation by 20%-25%, and increased what was considered to be the “appropriate serving size” by 20%.

Chandon and Wansink introduced the “health halo” effect in 2007, referring to the findings that people tend to underestimate the calorie content of foods in restaurants where food choices are advertised as healthy, compared to restaurants that do not advertise a health image. One healthy attribute leads consumers to assume that foods offer other healthy but unclaimed attributes. Health claims on a product can produce a “halo effect” where consumers reported beneficial effects from the product beyond those specifically mentioned in the claim.  This shows that the way consumers are processing the information they seeing on packages is far more complex than them simply processing it, they use their own beliefs and ideas and therefor interpret the information in a different way than it may be presented. For instance many consumers may mistakenly think that low fat equates to low calorie.

The mere presence of a low-fat claim has been shown to lead to underestimation of calories and greater consumption (Wansink and Chandon 2006). In a study products with a half-the-fat claim and half-the-calorie claim 22 percent of the participants made a positive “health halo” inference and thought the product was “healthy” or “good for you.” Though the study found that the products that claimed to be “better-for-you” tended to be “healthier”. But this is not to say that “healthier” is synonymous with “healthy”.

“Labeling snacks as low fat increases food intake during a single consumption occasion by up to 50%. This is robust across both hedonic utilitarian snacks, across young and old consumers across self-reported nutrition experts and novices, in public and private consumption, and regardless of whether people serve themselves or not” Wansink and Chandon 2006.

Studies by Wanskin and Chandon 2006 suggested that low-fat nutrition claims increase consumption because they increase perception of the appropriate serving size and reduce anticipate consumption guilt. “Health halos influence consumption because people feel that they can eat more of healthy food, or can eat more unhealthy (but tasty) food after eating healthy food without suffering any adverse health consequences” (Ramanathan and Williams 2007).

The effect that marketing can have on consumers purchasing habits is shown in Kellogg’s decision to market its first health claim. In 1984, Kellogg worked with the National Cancer Institute to endorse a health claim for All-Bran cereal, within six months the products market share increased by 47%.   Kozup, Cyer, and Burton (2003) showed that “when a heart-healthy claim is on the package or menu, consumers generally judge the product to reduce the likelihood of heart disease or stroke, but favorable nutrition information lead to more positive attitudes toward the product, nutrition, and purchase intentions.” When unfavorable nutrition information is available, the heart-healthy claim has no influence on either the evaluations or disease risk perception.

This overall pattern results suggests that consumers may be somewhat wary of health claims and prefer instead to trust the information contained on the Nutrition Facts panel when it is available. Favorable nutrition information on Nutrition Facts panels have even stronger effects than health claims on product attitude and purchase intentions. Never the less, results showed that there were positive effects of the inclusion of a heart-healthy claim on a package or menu.

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Yogurt: Superfood or Marketing Hype?

Greek yogurt has takeHE_strawberry-Greek-yogurt_s4x3n over the yogurt scene. Its sales have more than doubled over the past years, according to Euromonitor International.  There are so many brands creating new lines, how is one to know what they should choose?  Notably, since there is no government regulations of what can be labeled “Greek“.

Yogurt, especially Greek is categorized as a healthy food because it has double the amount of protein than traditional yogurt, great nutritious content, probiotics, calcium, potassium, magnesium and others when plain, but what about when it is flavored. Food producers have capitalized on the healthy perception of yogurt and are trying to promote it to become a larger part of the American lifestyle.

There are several trends that have produced the on going yogurt wars.  The desire for better health and healthier, superior food products has prompted food producers to great creative.  “Brands are looking for new ways to continue driving consumption, private label supply is tight but growing,” said Chris Solly CEO of Ehrmann USA,  “it is clear that brands need to bring true innovation to the category to maintain consumer interest.”  Consumers will see some new advertisements from yogurt producers this year during the Super Bowl.  Dannon will be showing ads during Super Bowl to make up for some loss ground that Chobani gained this past year when it took over the yogurt scene as America’s number-one yogurt brand.  “2014 is the year of the yogurt wars,” said McGuinness, Chobani’s chief marketing officer.  Chobani will also be showing its own ad:

In order to go beyond breakfast, food producers have explored other areas like dessert to sell more products.  Dozens of different flavors have hit the shelves, but are they sill nutritious? Flavors such Apple Pie, Caramel Macchiato, or Vanilla Chocolate Chuck are obviously going to be sweeter but even fruits like peach, strawberry, and blueberry can contain much more sugar than plain.  Not all yogurts are equal.  Both Dannon and Chobani make claims that they produce healthy products.  Even though Chobani markets itself as being “natural” consumers still have to watch out for added sugars.  Yes, evaporated cane juice is natural but it’s still added sugar, I’m looking at you Chobani.

Flavored Greek yogurt can contain as much sugar as 15 to 25 grams per serving.  The better option is to choose plain and add your own fresh fruit or drizzle of honey.  If you still prefer flavored yogurt, registered dietitian Maria Bella recommends making your choice based on the ingredients list; the first three ingredients should be milk, live and active cultures, and fruit, sugar should come near the end of the list.   Next time you purchase yogurt check out the nutrition label, that my be changing soon, and try to pick one out that has a lower sugar content.  Check out these myths about Greek yogurts so you can be more informed next time you go shopping.