Is it possible to change the belief that unhealthy food is tastier?

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Providing nutritional information for healthy and less healthy versions had little impact on consumer choice
Providing nutritional information for healthy and less healthy versions had little impact on consumer choice

Related tags: Nutrition

Efforts to shift food choices toward healthier options often fail because there is a perceived conflict between health and taste, according to a new study.

The research, published in The Journal of Public Policy & Marketing​, found that most people consider taste the most important attribute when choosing foods – and unhealthy food is widely considered to be tastier than healthier options. The authors point out that policymakers often have tried to encourage healthier food choices by raising consumers’ health consciousness, but this has fallen short of expectations.

“Changing a belief to which consumers subscribe at an implicit level is difficult,” ​they wrote. “…Policy planners must instead find ways to make healthy foods more appealing, by improving the actual taste as well as the packaging and marketing, and by investing in social campaigns which work on consumer’s emotions and encourage a sense that healthy eating is ‘cool’ and prestigious.”

In a series of experiments, the researchers gave participants various yoghurts with differing amounts of fat and sugar, and provided different levels of information. Even when given nutritional information intended to steer them toward the healthier choice, most consumers still chose the less healthy option.

And whether they were informed or not, most considered the less healthy yoghurt to be tastier.

 “The studies jointly demonstrate that the UTI (unhealthy = tasty intuition) partly works implicitly and independently of health consciousness. Hence, the obesity epidemic should be addressed through concerted actions that include policy makers’ health communication and the food industry’s product development,” ​the study’s authors wrote.

They acknowledged that the focus of this research was the role of taste vs. health, while there are a range of other factors that influence food choice, including price, brand, packaging, convenience, variety seeking, social influences and norms.

“Our findings suggest that a holistic and positive approach in food marketing is needed to foster healthy food choices,”​ they concluded.


Source: The Journal of Public Policy & Marketing

“How to Combat the Unhealthy = Tasty Intuition: The Influencing Role of Health Consciousness”

Authors: Robert Mai and Stefan Hoffmann

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