Green food labels make nutrition-poor food seem healthy

14 March 2013

Green calorie labels may lead people to see nutrition-poor foods in a healthier light. A Cornell researcher says in a forthcoming print issue of Health Communication that consumers are more likely to perceive a candy bar as more healthful when it has a green calorie label compared with when it had a red one -- even though the number of calories is the same. And green labels increase perceived healthfulness of foods, especially among consumers who place high importance on healthy eating.
The researcher asked 93 university students to imagine that they were hungry and see a candy bar while waiting in a grocery checkout lane. The students were then shown an image of a candy bar with either a red or a green calorie label. He asked them whether the candy bar, compared to others, contains more or fewer calories and how healthy it is. The students perceived the green-labeled bar as more healthful than the red one, even though the calorie content was the same.
The study has implications for nutrition labeling, given that front-of-package calorie labels have become increasingly common in the food marketplace in the United States and Europe (News Item Cornell University, 11 March 2013).