How "Health Aura" Tricks You Into Over-Eating

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).

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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