by Marion Nestle
Mar 27 2013

How to make people think foods are healthy: greenwash!

Green labels are all that it takes to make consumers think that foods are healthier, says a new study (see full reference below):

You don’t believe this?

Decide for yourself: Which candy bar is healthier?

This clever study found that green labels increase perceived healthfulness, especially among consumers who place high importance on healthy eating.

Read it and weep: Jonathon P. Schuldt (2013): Does Green Mean Healthy? Nutrition Label Color Affects Perceptions of Healthfulness, Health Communication, DOI:10.1080/10410236.2012.725270.

Comments

  • Denny
  • March 27, 2013
  • 6:00 am

In some countries the regulators count on exactly this. As you’ve previously posted about, in the UK we have a traffic light system which means ‘green’ = healthy and ‘red’ = unhealthy on some of the key nutritional aspects of a product (calories, sugar, fat, sat. fat, salt). It’s not surprising to see food manufacturers exploiting the same logic.

  • E.J.G.
  • March 27, 2013
  • 8:52 am

How foolish this attempt to rate individual foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. So arbitrary and intentionally misleading. Perhaps meals cumulatively over the course of a day, a month or decade could be reasonably rated for contribution to disease outcomes. Even that would be subjective. So, an authoritative-looking label crafted to transmit subliminal messages stuck on a candy bar or on a bag of granola is your version of the last word in public health education? Little wonder we all have grown obese and diabetic on your watch. We all must return to true nutritional science and stop obsessing over this food and that ingredient. You seem to think you are somehow smarter than the average eater but obviously you are not. What license permits you to substitute food science for nutritional science and for medical science? We see how you profit from your pop science version of nutrition.

  • Gidon Gerber
  • March 27, 2013
  • 9:50 am

I would not be surprised if they find that people eating the food with green labels actually are healthier, because of the placebo effect ;-)

I saw a flow chart one time of foods that you should eat and shouldn’t eat and it basically came down to if it had a label or not. If it has a nutrition label stating the calories then it is processed and you shouldn’t eat it. If it has no label then it is either produce or meat. You can eat that. In my book, whether a label is green or red it is bad.

  • Kathy
  • March 28, 2013
  • 1:43 am

Jennifer, you stated what I was thinking, but you were more articulate. Thank you!

  • Kelly
  • March 28, 2013
  • 1:45 am

Thanks for another informative post! I really love your blog since it has a lot of helpful information. Be it about food or life. Keep it up Food politics!

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  • Mary
  • March 28, 2013
  • 8:28 am

If you get the GMO labels you all claim you need, guess what color they’ll be. Heh.

  • Swati
  • March 29, 2013
  • 6:52 am

Very informative post. I think due to lack of proper knowledge about food, consumers make this type of decision.

[...] by babeguhhIt’s not about the foods you eat, but about the portions. So you can eat anything you normally eat, but you may want to eat [...]

It could be green and still have way too much sugar (carbs) or trans fat. Labels are so arbitrary!

That’s a little scary, but subconsciously, I can see the correlation with the green label.

  • Clare
  • April 3, 2013
  • 8:48 am

It’s funny how the color on a label makes people perceive things differently. Most people would probably pick a green label over a red one. I’m trying to stick to the paleo diet at the moment though so most things I eat don’t even have nutritional labels!

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[...] En helt ny studie fant også at et grønt kalorisymbol på pakken gjorde at maten ble oppfattet som sunnere enn et rødt eller hvitt symbol. Sjokoladen med grønt kalorimerke ble oppfattet som sunnere. (Fra foodpolitics.com) [...]

  • Michele
  • February 13, 2014
  • 9:00 am

Hey Denny,
You’re right about the traffic light system. Interesting then the Presidents Choice Foods in Canada has chosen to represent their “lighter option” product by labeling them the “blue menu foods.” I wonder how that impacts the consumers from a psychological perspective.

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