Would Labeling Healthy Food Like Junk Food Make You Eat More of It?
According to one study, the answer is a resounding "yes."
Scientists have caught on. And they've decided that it might not be the produce that is the problem, but rather how we name it. So, researchers with Stanford University decided to test the hypothesis, guaging whether using indulgent and descriptive phrases to describe healthy foods would encourage people to choose them more often.
They hit a university campus—where people are always hungry—and offered up a vegetable labeled four different ways. Let's say that vegetable was beets. Patrons had a choice between basic, i.e. "beets," healthy restrictive, i.e., "lighter-choice beets with no added sugar," healthy positive, i.e. "high-antioxidant beets," and indulgent, i.e. "dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets." No matter their label, the beets were displayed and prepared—and therefore tasted—the exact same way.
Then, the researchers sat back and discreetly recorded which of the veggies people most readily scooped up. And no matter the day, no matter the vegetable, people overwhelmingly choose the one that was labeled more indulgently, much like junk food.
In fact, of the 8,279 people who chose to put a vegetable on their plates, 25 percent more people selected the veggie with the indulgent label than those who reached for the basic label. What's more, 41 percent more people chose the indulgent label over the healthy restrictive label, and 35 percent more went for the basic label instead the healthy positive label, telling scientists there is something to seductive labeling.
According to the research, those who chose the indulgently labeled vegetables also likely ate more veggies. People who plopped indulgently labeled vegetables on their plates took 23 percent more in mass over those who selected the basically labeled veggies, and 33 percent more than those who chose the healthy restrictive ones.
Of course, the researchers were only able to measure what people took from the containers of vegetables, not what they actually ate off their plates. However, they say, people typically eat about 92 percent of food they serve themselves, so it's safe to say that people who took more the more enticingly labeled vegetables also ingested more.
The scientists say more research must be done to determine whether food labeling could change how our culture sees healthy food. But while we wait for this potential shift in our grocery stores and in restaurants, these results can be applied to your own life. Like, the next time you need to get your kid to eat green beans, remember, they're not just green beans—they're "sizzling and tangy green beans."