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Subway healthy?

Last week Subway announced that it will spend $41 million over three years to encourage young eaters to eat more produce.  They have aliened with the First Lady in her campaign to promote healthier eating and lifestyles through the Partnership for a Healthier America nonprofit organization.  Subways changes will only affect their kid’s menu to mirror federal standards for school lunch.  That includes offering apples on the side and low-fat or nonfat plain milk or water as a default beverage.  This is a commendable step in the right direction, but it’s aimed at kids.  What do adults think of their “healthy” Subway meals? They must be pretty supportive because Subway was one of the Best-Perceived Brands of 2013 according to AdWeek.

Which leads us to my favorite topic “Health Halos”.  A product that is marketed as being low fat, natural, whole grain and so on cause people to underestimate the calories and overestimate the health value of the product.  The same thing can happen with a food dish.  One perceives a salad as a restaurant to be healthy because it is a salad when in actuality many salads have as many calories as any other main course.  I’m going to pause there, calories are necessary but I’m talking about extremely high and from bad sources like fatty dressing.  The effect goes even further than what food we choose to eat, also where we choose to get it from.  Subway’s low-fat advertising cause a significant halo effect.  “People who eat at McDonald’s know their sins, ” Dr. Chandon said, “but people at Subway think that a 1,000-calorie sandwich has only 500 calories.”  This does not mean that you have to give up your beloved subs,  Dr. Chandon suggests that you simply take health halos into account.

This healthy perception even spills over into side dishes consumers choose.  “Even though the Subway sandwich had more calories than the Big Mac, the people ordering it were more likely to add a large nondiet soda and cookies to the order.  So while they may have felt virtuous, they ended up with meals averaging 56 percent more calories than the meals ordered from McDonald’s.”

The popularity and emphasis of healthier foods is on the rise simultaneously while there is an increase in obesity – the American obesity paradox.  “Consumers estimate that familiar sandwiches and burgers contain up to 35% fewer calories when they come from restaurants claiming to be healthy, such as Subway, than when they come from restaurants not making this claim, such as McDonald’s” (Chandon and Wansink 2007).

“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)” Chadon and Wansink 2007.

So next time you choose what restaurant to go to picking one that is perceived to be healthy isn’t enough to ensure you eat a healthy meal, you also have to be conscious of the type of marketing they throw at you and choose a meal that is healthy.  I have based a large part of my arguments on a study done by Brain Wansink and Pierre Chadon’s research that you can read here.

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