Misleading food marketing is fooling you almost everyday. Accept it or not, it’s the fact. Researchers have recently shown that food marketers use health-related phrases, like ‘gluten-free’, on food packages in order to make consumers buy the products. The buyers are inclined to think that foods with such labellings are healthier than what they really are. Uh-oh, be no more fooled by mere words on the packaging.
We are what we eat – motto that makes us become more health-conscious such that we are cautious about what we’re consuming. How cautious, though? Sometimes, consumers are easily convinced of the supposed healthy nature of a food item just because it says “gluten-free”, or “packed with antioxidants” on the packet. Are such markings on the food item some kind of guarantee that the food is good for health?
“Antioxidants, gluten-free, natural, organic….”
A new study purports that consumers take these kinds of labels seriously. When food items are labelled with words like “antioxidants” and the likes, consumers get into thinking that they are healthier than what they really are. This constitutes a heavy misconception that buyers have developed which ultimately impact on their very health, as suggested by the researchers. Moreover, what might be making things worse is the fact that the majority of consumers are not equipped with the right knowledge to be able to understand the meaning of the nutritional facts printed on the packages of food products. If this does actually have a direct bearing on the consumers, this might explain the increase in obesity in the United States.
Who to blame? The food marketers coming up with misleading marketing strategies, according to the led author of the study. Consumers wish to buy healthy foods, whatever is their level of consciousness of healthy eating. Food marketers understand this, and, trying to exploit this characteristic of consumers, they tend to tag food products as healthy when they are not that healthy in reality. The title of the study itself is blunt enough: “Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health.”
The investigators found that labels which are but euphemisms for health-related terms would mislead people into thinking that the food items in question are healthier than those food packages which did not come with such labels. People would incline to those packages which alluded to being more beneficial to the health, irrespective of the nutrition fact panels printed on the packaging. All goes to say that people really are not aware of the implications of the nutritional facts added to food packaging: they know not how to interpret these. Hence, these data make do difference to the people. But, the sugar-coated words on the food packages sure lure people to them.
The moment people see the words “organic”, “antioxidant”, “natural”, “gluten-free” on food packets, they automatically associate health benefits to the food items, without thinking further. Humans are such that marketing has a tremendous impact on their minds that somehow do not think further when exposed to such strategies. The main author of the study said the following in regards to this phenomenon: “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.”
Human psychology vs Food Marketing
The human mind is easily pacified by mere words – an aspect which is being greatly exploited by manufacturers, to their own benefit. Trying to explain this in light of psychology, the researcher added that:
“For example, if I gave you the word ‘doctor,’ not only ‘doctor’ would be accessible in your mind – now all these other things would be accessible in your mind – ‘nurse,’ ‘stethoscope,’ etc.,” Northup added in the press release. “What happens when these words become accessible, they tend to influence or bias your frame of mind and how you evaluate something.”