THE HEALTH HALO EFFECT- Have you been a victim?
Gluten-free, low-fat, sugar-free, raw, paleo, organic, high-protein…
These are all buzzwords that food marketers use to lead the consumer to believe that they are purchasing a healthier product. Not only is this often misguided, but this also leads to another issue…
The Health Halo Effect
Essentially, this is where we perceive a meal or a food item to be healthier than it really is, which can:
Lead to an over consumption of the ‘healthier’ choice.
Have a detrimental impact on our subsequent food choices.
Lead to reduced energy expenditure.
Marketers have caught onto the fact that the general public are becoming more health conscious and are displaying an interest in purchasing more nutritious foods. Kellogg’s are displaying athletes on their boxes of corn flakes. Catchy words such as ‘sustain’, ‘fuel’ and ‘energy’ are splashed across pre-packaged products. Low-fat alternatives are on the rise. For someone trying to lose weight, these products seem like the right choice. But are we sabotaging our weight loss goals?
One group of researchers found that when health-conscious customers consumed fitness-branded food products, not only did they eat more, but they also reduced their physical activity afterward. Coupling overconsumption with a decrease in energy expenditure puts you in double jeopardy. This clearly contrary to the energy balance principle, which dictates that weight loss occurs when your total daily energy expenditure is higher than your energy consumption. As a result, fitness-branding may have undesirable effects on weight loss. The exact opposite of what most of us would be hoping for when looking for a healthier option!
Another study compared M&Ms and granola. Most of us would label granola as the healthier and less indulgent option, yet both foods are similar in caloric density. Researchers found that the participants underestimated the calorie content of the granola by 28% and actually overestimated the calorie content of the M&Ms by 9% (Wansink and Chandon, 2006). In addition, labelling a food as ‘low-fat’ led to a further underestimation of caloric content.
Controlling our calorie intake is key when it comes to weight loss, since fat loss requires a caloric deficit. It’s hard to remain in a deficit if you’re underestimating your calorie intake!
This underestimation becomes an even greater issue when it is coupled with overconsumption, which is exactly what was found in further studies. Researchers took normal weight and overweight consumers and compared actual calorie consumption with estimated calorie consumption of foods with either a regular label or a low-fat label. They found actual calorie consumption to be higher in all conditions, but the discrepancies were even greater when foods were labelled as low-fat
Don’t Fall For It
It can be difficult to differentiate between healthier products and false claims. This is why it’s more important than ever to stay informed, so that you can make choices that will serve you and your goals.
This is where reading nutrition labels becomes critical.
What should you pay attention to?
- The macronutrient profile: Carbs, fats and protein.
- The calorie content in relation to the portion size. Are you eating the correct amount?
- The ingredients: Is the product micronutrient dense?
Don’t fall prey to the Health Halo Effect.
Food marketers are only interested in your money, not your health.
Diet Smart. Not Hard
 Batra, R., Stretcher, V., Keller, P. (2011). Leveraging Consumer Psychology for Effective Health Communications: The Obesity Challenge. Retrieved from http://books.google.com
 Wansink and Chandon 2006