Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Do We Make The Choices We Make?

In our last post we talked about Burger King and their new “healthier” Kids’ Meal options. We asked if even these healthier choices could be considered “healthy?” Well, here’s a question for all of us adults, one that asks why we make the choices we make? Interesting question in many ways, but we’ll just focus on one area—food. Is it taste, habit, comfort, convenience, price, or maybe, nutrition? Or maybe, none of the above? Or maybe, all of the above?

We have to believe that most of us know by now which food choices are healthier than others. But do we care? A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research might answer this question with, “maybe not.” The study goes further to say that the presence of healthy items on restaurant menus may actually encourage consumers to select less healthy food items.

So, here’s food for thought. “Just because consumers say they want to see healthier options on menus, doesn’t mean they are going to choose them.” The study points out that the presence of healthy options can actually call the consumer’s attention to the “unhealthy” choices.

Researchers from Duke University, Loyola College and City University of New York asked a group of college students to choose a side from a menu that offered chicken nuggets, french fries or a baked potato. Another group of students was asked to select from the same menu but with an additional choice—a side salad. All items were the same price. When the salad was not offered, 10 percent of the students chose french fries, the least healthy choice. When the side salad was offered, 33 percent chose french fries.

And, this is really interesting. The study found that just the presence of a healthy item on the menu vicariously fulfilled “healthy eating goals,” and drove the diners attention to the least-healthy food choices, providing them with the “license to indulge in tempting foods.”

Our question(s)? Do we see all the choices as “sides” (so all are incidental)? Do we see that all are the same price, and think, “all the same?” Do we “know,” what we should choose, but think, “next time?” Or do we know, but don’t care?

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