The "Health Halo"?

Happy December!  Can you believe it’s here already? 

This week, I have a confession.  After a much-needed trip to the grocery for some essentials, I returned to discover that I had succumbed to the “Halo effect.” 

“Argh” I cried. 

You see, I arrived home with this (see photo), and shortly thereafter read an article in my Wellness Letter, a UC Berkeley publication entitled “Health halo effect, revisited.” In the article, they discuss the “health halo” effect that occurs when a food or behavior that has some healthy attributes is “perceived as being virtuous in all respects.” 

An example of the “health halo” is people who think anything labeled organic is fair game and can be eaten without giving it a second thought, while the reality is that there are plenty of foods out there that are organic junk food (sadly if it’s mostly sugar, even organic sugar, while it may have virtues over a non-organic counterpart, it’s still sugar, which has miniscule known nutritional value.  More on that another time).

The article referenced two studies in the Journal of Marketing Research and Journal of Marketing which reported rather unexpected findings “because it’s likely that many people fall victim to a health aura, even if they think they know better.”

“In the first study, people who were trying to lose weight consumed more trail mix when the package labeled it as a “Fitness” snack (and had an image of running shoes) rather than just plain “Trail Mix.” Moreover, when given the opportunity to use a stationary bike, the weight-conscious participants exercised less after consuming the trail mix labeled “Fitness” than when they ate the snack with the plain label. Rather than prime the participants to be more active, as might be expected, the fitness-branded food apparently served as a substitute for exercise. Fitness branding may put dieters “in double jeopardy, because it makes them eat more and exercise less,” the researchers concluded.

The 2nd study -  my “violation”

“The second study, from Harvard Business School and Duke University, looked at data from more than 2 million shopping trips at a major grocery store in California and found that people who brought reusable shopping bags bought more organic foods. That’s not surprising since people who are more environmentally conscientious are more likely to support organic farming. But incongruously, they also chose more “indulgent” foods, like candy and chips. The laudable act of reusing bags, the authors noted, seems to give shoppers free license to indulge by helping them “feel more deserving and less guilty about doing so.”

I used my own shopping bags, and as you can see, the contents were all veggies and fruits (most organic, I might add), except for the 8 lbs (3.6 kg) of sugar. I had to laugh at the irony. If I had been in that study with this purchase – I wonder what the the results would have been!   

I  didn't really cry “Argh,” - actually it was more of a laugh. I was very aware of what I was doing as my kitchen is Holiday Cookie Baking Central for my family. I gather with my sisters, and several nieces and nephews, and we make a day of it. It’s a wonderful family tradition and we supply goodies for multiple gatherings and dozens of people. So that sugar goes a long way.

I may - who’s kidding who?! – I will indulge, but just a bit.  

While we still have our traditions, some of us have gotten far more conscientious about what we eat, so this year we’ll be adding more “virtuous” treats to our festivities.  I’ll be sure to share some of those recipes with you.

The article concluded with this solid advice. “Bottom line: To avoid being influenced by the health halo effect, ignore buzzwords, slogans, and images that make foods appear more healthful than they really are (flip the package over to read the nutrition facts). And be mindful that behaving “virtuously” in one area of your life (like using your own shopping bag) doesn’t give a green light to act in a negative or overindulgent way elsewhere.”


NOTE: Not that I need to further justify my purchase, but I feel compelled to share that I did buy Pure Cane sugar, a plant which has not yet been genetically modified vs.  Pure Sugar, which comes from beets and in the U.S., most assuredly is genetically modified. 


Wishing you a great December,

P.S.  Ready to start 2016 on the path to a healthier you? It can all start with a simple phone call.  Let’s chat about what that path can look like – just for You. The session is complimentary, and guaranteed to make you feel better. Scheduling is easy with my online booking system: Schedule Now

I’ll be posting recipes through the month for those “virtuous” treats I mentioned and you don’t want to miss out! If you haven't yet, please join KTC's Let's Eat REAL Facebook group! It's a great community to share tips and recipes for eating and living well. Just click the link above and then click “Join.”