Yuppie Foodies Hoodwinked By "Health Halo"

Did you guys know that if you're eating too much, you'll gain weight? Even if the food you're gorging on has healthy buzz words like "trans-fat free" and "organic"? Well, apparently folks in a new study conducted by New York Times science reporter John Tierney were easily distracted by shiny ad-speak and that's why health professionals think they're not losing weight. Tierney refers to the "lite" terminology as the "health halo."

Our collaboration began in a nutritionally correct neighborhood, Brooklyn’s Park Slope, whose celebrated food co-op has a mission statement to sell “organic, minimally processed and healthful foods.” I hit the streets with two questionnaires…Half of the 40 people surveyed were shown pictures of a meal consisting of an Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad and a 20-ounce cup of regular Pepsi. (You can see it for yourself at TierneyLab.) On average, they estimated that the meal contained 1,011 calories, which was a little high. The meal actually contained 934 calories — 714 from the salad and 220 from the drink. The other half of the Park Slopers were shown the same salad and drink plus two Fortt’s crackers prominently labeled “Trans Fat Free.” The crackers added 100 calories to the meal, bringing it to 1,034 calories, but their presence skewed people’s estimates in the opposite direction. The average estimate for the whole meal was only 835 calories — 199 calories less than the actual calorie count, and 176 calories less than the average estimate by the other group for the same meal without crackers.

You know what's rich (besides, apparently, those Fortt's crackers)? The French Doctor who helped Tierney conduct the experiment then turns around and accuses Americans of being joyless fatties who are nonetheless obsessed with nutrition. “Being French, I don’t have any problem with people enjoying lots of foods,” says the Frog. “Europeans obsess less about nutrition but know what a reasonable portion size is and when they have had too much food, so they’re not as biased by food and diet fads and are healthier. Too many Americans believe that to lose weight, what you eat matters more than how much you eat. It’s the country where people are the best informed about food and enjoy it the least.”

Health Halo Can Hide the Calories [NY Times]