Healthy Buzzwords Get People to Think Spam Is Healthier than Salmon

Study: healthy buzzwords mislead consumers into believing products are healthier than they are
There’s a specific reason why all the products you see in the grocery store are plastered with healthy buzzwords in bold lettering like “organic,” “heart healthy,” “antioxidant,” “all natural,” “gluten-free” and “whole grain” on their packaging. The simple reason is marketers know these words work in selling you the product, even when that product isn’t nearly as healthy as the buzzword leads you to believe. The fact is healthy words placed on a product’s label is an effective way to get consumers to purchase it by making them believe the product is healthier than it really is. Healthy buzzwords can be so effective that they were even able to sway some people into believing Spam was a healthier choice than salmon.

The study revealed health-related euphemisms can have a huge impact on a consumer’s view of a product. Furthermore, they can give a false sense of the product being healthy regardless of the actual ingredients in the product. It goes on to give an example of Cherry 7-Up, which carries an “antioxidant” label on its packaging. The antioxidant label gives the impression the product is anti-aging in nature, and is able to prevent such illnesses as cancer and heart disease, but the researchers note this label being placed on Cherry 7-Up is completely misleading. They conclude, “Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious, when in fact, they’re not…When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up — it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”

The study, titled “Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health,” and published in Food Studies, asked 318 participants to look at and analyze the health aspects of a number of products, then determine whether those products were actually healthy for them or not. It found when the product promised some sort of health benefit, consumers responded. When comparing two products in the same packaging with one having a healthy buzzword across the front and the other not, the participants would identify the product with the healthy buzzword as being healthier compared to the product without the label.

Marketers often claim that it’s okay to use these healthy buzzwords on packaging because those foods are required to also print a nutritional label on the product. They claim that through these labels, consumers can figure out what’s healthy and what’s not regardless of other words printed on the package. What the study found was that most consumers fail when it comes to reading nutritional labels, and they rely far too much on the buzzwords to make their food choices.

(Photo courtesy of Josh Graciano)

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