You’re Probably Not As Healthy As You Think You Are

How food labels are misleading you.

Asha Fuller
Jun 4, 2019 · 3 min read

We associate eating healthy with higher costs. While some may argue this is not actually the case, there’s no denying that there are definitely foods marketed as being better for you that sport heftier price tags.

A quick look through the grocery store can confirm that foods perceived as healthier often cost significantly more than their regular counterparts. Labels like “natural” and “organic” drive costs up — just look at Walmart’s website. A two pound bag of carrots is $1.44, while a bag of organic carrots the same size is $2.24, almost a 50 percent markup!

Although it sounds like these foods should be better for you, research suggests they are not particularly more nutritious for you — or at least not enough to justify higher prices.

Marketers are banking on the words they put on the label to coax your dollars out of your wallet, even when the words on the labels have no real meaning.

Take the term ‘natural.’ The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate (or have a definition for) what food product is deserving of the word ‘natural’ on food labels. Back in 2015, the FDA asked for public comment on what should be considered natural, but they have yet to do anything with the public feedback.

Think about the last time you went to the grocery store. Did you understand most of the logos on food labels? Probably not, or at least not as well as you think you did. The labels marketers use are very purposefully meant to confuse consumers and convince them they are getting more bang for their buck, even if they aren’t necessary. For instance, in order for an item to be labeled “organic,” it cannot contain any GMOs. Yet these products feature both the non-GMO and organic label. It is almost as if companies are trying to convince consumers that because an item is BOTH of these things, it’s worth the higher cost.

This brings us to the question: what kind of people buy these more expensive foods? This is what researchers Michelle Segovia and Marco Palma at the Texas A&M University’s Human Behavior Lab set out to find.

Segovia and Palma designed an experiment to find out whether consumers were willing to pay more for food they were informed was healthier. They asked their research subjects questions about their diet, exercise and smoking habits, and weight status. Using the participants’ answers, they determined whether the participant led a “healthy” or “unhealthy” lifestyle.

“We found that people who had unhealthy lifestyles were willing to pay more for food they believed to be healthier,” said Palma, director of the Human Behavior Lab. “Interestingly enough, consumers with healthy lifestyles would not pay extra for healthy foods.”

So why is that?

Palma and Segovia think it could be because some people with unhealthy lifestyles are willing to pay more to compensate for their bad habits and maintain a positive self-image, while people with healthy lifestyles do not feel the need to pay more for nutritious food since they are already healthy.

It appears that unhealthy people want to make up for poor diet and exercise habits by trying to buy into a healthy lifestyle. This helps explain why spending several extra dollars at the grocery store might just “balance” out your unhealthy habits.

This is the same sort of behavior you’ve seen at your favorite fast food place when someone orders a double cheeseburger, large fries, and a diet soda.

So before you pay more at the grocery store for some product labeled as ‘healthy’ or ‘natural,’ you might ask yourself if you are trying to compensate for unhealthy habits.

Remember, you can’t put a monetary price on your health.

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Asha Fuller

Written by

Writer. Designer. Fascinated by human behavior and the way the brain works.

The Startup

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