How Food Packaging Messes With Your Mind

Chew on this: People are more likely to think a food item is healthier if it has a green calorie label, according to a new study out of Cornell University.

The study, published in the journal Health Communication, took place in two parts. First, 93 undergrad participants looked at a picture of one of two candy bars. The candy bars each had the same number of calories listed: 260. In fact, they were nearly identical—the only difference between them was that one had a green calorie label, and the other had a red calorie label. Yet the participants who looked at the photo of the green-labeled candy bar judged it to be significantly healthier and to have fewer calories than other candy bars.

“Green means go and has generally positive associations, so we might see that as a green light to indulge,” says Jonathon Schuldt, PhD, the lead study author, assistant professor of communication, and director of Cornell’s Social Cognition and Communication Lab. Since red can of course carry its own implications (Stop! Warning!), the researchers decided it was unclear whether it was the green or the red that caused the results—so they performed a second study. This time, 60 online participants looked at a candy bar with either a green or a white calorie label, and they answered a question about how much value they put on healthy eating. Those who put a lot of weight on healthy eating thought the candy bar with the green label was healthier than the one with the white label.

“Even when we provided the participants with identical calorie information, the color was able to exert this effect,” says Schuldt. “It’s a reminder that it’s hard for us to navigate decisions about what’s healthy.”

Published on March 20th, 2013
Written by: Alison Goldman, Women’s Health Assistant Online Editor

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