Friday, April 15, 2011

Time to Polish Up Your “Health Halo”

Here’s the science . . . it’s well-known that the way we perceive a particular trait of any person is influenced by how we perceive other characteristics of that same person. A person with a positive attribute we admire actually radiates a halo, meaning we believe other traits of that person are also positive.

Now, research shows the halo effect also applies to foods and even influences what and how much we eat. The study conducted at Cornell University’s School of Applied Economics and Management found that people tend to consume more calories at fast-food restaurants claiming “healthy” meals (or at least healthier offerings) than they do at a fast-food restaurant not making those claims. When you think a food is more nutritious, you let your guard down. Counting calories takes a backseat to healthful eating—and boy do we eat. If it’s healthy, we tend to feel at liberty to indulge.

Now, how does this apply to healthy labels? Consider the organic label. Hear the word “organic” and you probably immediately think “healthy.” Think healthy, and according to the study, you might feel entitled to more. Not necessarily so.

Organic foods don’t necessarily taste better. They aren’t lower in calories. They aren’t especially more nutritious. They do tend to be more expensive, and they do tend to make us think we’re getting something more.

And, sometimes we are—more than we need—because we think it’s OK to take consumption to a higher level. Judging a “food by its cover” isn’t license to eat more of it. Calories are still calories. So, maybe that halo effect really does need polishing. Maybe we need to shine it up to see what it’s really reflecting.

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