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Health Halo Effect

 The Health Halo Effect

     If you have ever ordered the salad loaded with bacon, crispy chicken and low fat dressing at a restaurant, chose the “lite” menu options at a fast food chain, or bought organic ice cream because you were trying to be healthy, you may have fallen for the health halo effect. The health halo effect is defined as the perception of a food item as healthy based on one or more healthy attributes of that food. This cognitive bias has been shown to lead individuals to consume excess calories. The health halo effect isn’t exclusive to masking calories; it also has been used as a marketing tool to get you to pay more for certain products.

 Research has shown that asking yourself to consider a reason why the advertised health claim might not apply may eliminate the health halo effect. Follow these tips to avoid falling into the health halo trap.

Food: Organic, hormone-free ice cream

Health Claim: It is organic and free of hormones and antibiotics.

Health Halo Trap: Ice cream is still high in saturated fat, and added sugars. Organic ice cream also has the same amount of calories as conventional ice cream.

In the Dining Hall: Enjoy a small bowl of any variety ice cream in moderation.

Food: Fresh garden salad with bacon, fried chicken and low fat dressing

Health Claim: It is a fresh garden salad with low fat dressing.

Health Halo Trap: Pay close attention to the portion size which may negate any low fat salad dressing benefit to overall calories. It also contains fried chicken and bacon, which are high fat and high calorie proteins.

In the Dining Hall: Try a salad with a variety of vegetables, beans and balsamic vinegar.

Food: Prepared real fruit smoothie drink

Health Claim: It is made with real fruit.

Health Halo Trap: Even though it’s made with real fruit, the fruit may only account for a small percentage of the smoothie. The smoothie may also have added sugars that increase caloric content.

In the Dining Hall: Indulge in a fruit smoothie every once in awhile. If the purpose of your smoothie is to get in servings of fruit you may be better off eating the fruit by itself.

Say Halo and Goodbye to Unhealthy Food Traps

 Written By: Cody Magulak                                     Reviewed By: Dr. Malcolm Watford- Dept. of Nutritional Sciences
References: Chandon, P., Wansink, B. The Biasing Health Halos of Fast-Food Restaurant Health Claims: Lower Calorie Estimates and Higher Side-Dish Consumption Intentions. J of Consumer Research. Vol. 34 Oct. 2007. Accessed on Feb. 11, 2013. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Bavinger JC, Pearson M, et al. (2012) Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? A systematic review. Ann Intern Med 157: 348–366 Accessed on Feb. 16, 2013.

2 responses »

  1. Can you tell me what RU stands for? I’m quoting this article on my website,

    Ethel Tiersky email:


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