In early April, the New York Times briefly reported the results of an eating behavior experiment. Investigators asked college students to choose foods from menus that differed in only one feature; one menu offered a salad and the other did not. The point? To find out whether the presence of a salad on the menu influenced what else the students ate. It did. The students choose French fries more often from the menu with the salad. The authors' interpretation: the "health aura" of salads gives people permission to indulge. Their paper will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Health aura explains a lot about current food marketing trends. You may have noticed that vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3's are added to everything these days. Coupled with the downturn in the economy, health aura does wonders for sales of dietary supplements. Despite underwhelming evidence for their effectiveness, supplements fly off the shelves. They cost a lot less than health care (and, perhaps, do less harm).