Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Elizabeth Pope

Status

Undergraduate

Student College

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Program/Major

Nutrition and Food Sciences

Primary Research Category

Food & Environment Studies

Secondary Research Category

Health Sciences

Presentation Title

Investigating the Role of Health Halos and Reactance on Food Choice

Time

3:00 PM

Location

Silver Maple Ballroom - Health Sciences

Abstract

The purpose of this research project was to study the ways in which nutrition labels, sensory experience, and consumers’ preconceived notions about products influence their purchasing and eating decisions so as to better understand how to educate and support healthy food choices. We focused on two pressures that can influence food choice: health halos and reactance. A health halo occurs when one’s initial favorable impression of a food causes subsequent positive, but often unrelated, assumptions about the food. Marketers use buzz words like “low-fat,” and “natural,” so consumers associate their products with healthfulness, even when the foods are not very nutritious. Reactance occurs when people rebel in response to the feeling that their freedom of choice is threatened; it may increase the appeal of restricted or forbidden products. Together, halo effects and reactance can lead to confusion when choosing what to eat and an overconsumption of unhealthy foods.

In our study, 240 participants tasted three cinnamon bun flavored frozen dessert samples: normal Ben & Jerry’s, vegan Ben & Jerry’s, and Halo Top (a low-calorie ice cream). Participants were divided into three conditions; one group received photos of the product containers, the ingredients, and the nutrition labels, while another group did not. A third group received the product information along with a warning about the detrimental health effects of eating too much sugar and fat. Participants completed a survey to rate each ice cream sample based on their enjoyment and perceived healthfulness of the product. We expect that when consumers have the marketing information for these desserts, health halos around the vegan and low-calorie options will impact food choice. From our data, we hope to evaluate if health halos and/or reactance are present and determine how to project a clearer message that promotes a more nutritious and balanced diet.

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Investigating the Role of Health Halos and Reactance on Food Choice

The purpose of this research project was to study the ways in which nutrition labels, sensory experience, and consumers’ preconceived notions about products influence their purchasing and eating decisions so as to better understand how to educate and support healthy food choices. We focused on two pressures that can influence food choice: health halos and reactance. A health halo occurs when one’s initial favorable impression of a food causes subsequent positive, but often unrelated, assumptions about the food. Marketers use buzz words like “low-fat,” and “natural,” so consumers associate their products with healthfulness, even when the foods are not very nutritious. Reactance occurs when people rebel in response to the feeling that their freedom of choice is threatened; it may increase the appeal of restricted or forbidden products. Together, halo effects and reactance can lead to confusion when choosing what to eat and an overconsumption of unhealthy foods.

In our study, 240 participants tasted three cinnamon bun flavored frozen dessert samples: normal Ben & Jerry’s, vegan Ben & Jerry’s, and Halo Top (a low-calorie ice cream). Participants were divided into three conditions; one group received photos of the product containers, the ingredients, and the nutrition labels, while another group did not. A third group received the product information along with a warning about the detrimental health effects of eating too much sugar and fat. Participants completed a survey to rate each ice cream sample based on their enjoyment and perceived healthfulness of the product. We expect that when consumers have the marketing information for these desserts, health halos around the vegan and low-calorie options will impact food choice. From our data, we hope to evaluate if health halos and/or reactance are present and determine how to project a clearer message that promotes a more nutritious and balanced diet.