Add this to the litany of label tricks to avoid. In addition to checking amount per serving, number of servings and ingredient lists, now keep an eye out for label color, which can be as deceiving as meaningless words like “All Natural” in holding sway over buyers’ decisions.
In a recent Cornell University study, participants perceived a candy bar with a green calorie count as more health-promoting than a candy bar with a red calorie count — even when the number of calories was exactly the same. So, in effect, poor-nutrition food products with such green labels — for example, Snickers bars and M&M’s — can play tricks on consumers‘ minds.
Turns out seeing green, a color that research has found may boost creativity, whose shades symbolize growth and nature, can actually boost the perceived healthfulness of foods, but here’s the bizarre part — this holds true especially among consumers who “place high importance on healthy eating,” according to an article in the Cornell Chronicle.
It’s increasingly common to spot eye-catching calorie labels on the front of food packaging, including on candy-bar wrappers. And currently, “There’s little oversight of these labels,” said study researcher Jonathon Schuldt, an assistant professor of communications who is also director of Cornell’s Social Cognition and Communication Lab.
“Our research suggests that the color of calorie labels may have an effect on whether people perceive the food as healthy, over and above the actual nutritional information conveyed by the label, such as calorie count,” said Schuldt.
When he had students imagine feeling hungry, then showed them candy bars with green or red calorie labels, they perceived the green-label bars as healthier. But the calorie counts were identical.
A repeated experiment with online participants also found that the more consumers cared about and preferred healthy eating, the more they chose green labels over (in this case) white as seemingly more healthful.
Here again, it’s the same old culprit at work: lack of oversight.
There is scant oversight from governmental organizations, the FDA and FTC, over nutrition labeling. C’mon, people. FDA, FTC . . . USDA? Can somebody, anybody please play on the team of the average American food consumer, who faces nationwide diabetes and obesity epidemics and is trying to make healthier selections?
But instead of regulating products already on the market, befuddling consumers more and more every day, government organizations, including the FDA, are considering spending time to develop uniform front-of-package labeling.
Sure, of course, add even more labels to complicate the exceedingly simple. That seems like an efficient use of resources.
In the meantime, as they try and sort out what new label could clear up the mess that is food packaging, keep in mind that package design — and color — may be influencing your purchase decisions. Now that’s information you can use, today, at the store, when you go to make a purchase. Yes, you’re hip to the color tricks now. And as you and I have known for quite a while now, each of us needs to be our own best health advocate. May the force be with you.
Columnist Julie D. Andrews is a contributing writer for TheBlot Magazine.