A new US study observed people given cookies that were either regular or organic with exactly the same energy content (670 kJ/160 Cals), as listed on the label. Consumers were then asked which they felt was better for their weight. Yep, you guessed it, the organic version was assumed to be lower in kJ/cals and better for their waistline, even when they were prompted to check the label. The more “pro-environment” they were, the more likely they were to judge the organic cookie as lower in energy. A recent UK consumer study found that 15% of people also thought that organic foods were preferable for weight loss.

The “believing more than is declared” phenomena is not new. In the 1980s and 1990s people assumed that “cholesterol-free” meant low in fat and great for blood cholesterol. Even today, very few people understand that the cholesterol level of a food has nothing to do with the fat content or the type of fat. The law has changed (at least in Australia) to stop the indiscriminate used of the term “cholesterol-free”.

The avocado folk stopped putting “cholesterol-free” stickers on their produce because people would prefer “cholesterol-free” avocadoes and avoid those fruit without a sticker. I bet if apples had “No Added Salt” and “Dolphin Safe” stickers they would fly off the shelves.

Reference: Judgment & Decision Making. 2010; 5 (3): 144-150

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