Elegant Descriptions of Healthy Foods Encourages Consumption

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Bradley P. Turnwald

Bradley Turnwald

Bradley P. Turnwald MS
Stanford University, Department of Psychology
Stanford, California

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: This study tested an intervention to encourage people to consume healthier foods. Encouraging healthy eating is difficult because many people think that healthy foods do not taste good, and most people prioritize taste over health when choosing what to eat. In fact, lab studies suggest that people rate foods as less tasty, less enjoyable, and less filling when they are labeled as healthy compared to when the same foods are not labeled as healthy. A recent study from the Stanford Mind & Body Lab published last month in Health Psychology showed that healthy foods are even described with less tasty, exciting, and indulgent descriptions compared to standard items on the menus of top-selling chain restaurants in America. This led us to ask the question, what if healthy foods were described with the tasty and indulgent descriptions that are typically reserved for the more classic, unhealthy foods?

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: The present study, published today in JAMA Internal Medicine, tested whether labeling vegetables with indulgent descriptions would increase the number of people choosing vegetables at lunch compared to when vegetables were labeled with basic, healthy restrictive, or healthy positive descriptions. The study was run for 46 days in a large university cafeteria, and each day the featured vegetable was labeled in 1 of 4 ways: indulgent (e.g., “dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets”), basic (“beets”), healthy restrictive (“lighter choice beets with no added sugar”), or healthy positive (“high-antioxidant beets”). No changes were made to how the vegetables were prepared or served. Each day research assistants discretely recorded the number of diners choosing the vegetable and the total mass of vegetables taken from the serving bowl. Results indicated that labeling vegetables indulgently led to a 25% increase in the number of diners choosing vegetables compared to the basic condition, a 41% increase compared to the healthy restrictive condition, and a 35% increase compared to the healthy positive condition. Similarly, a greater mass of vegetables was consumed on days that vegetables were labeled indulgently.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Describing healthy foods indulgently, as opposed to emphasizing health benefits, may be an effective strategy for encouraging consumption of healthy foods.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future research should test whether these effects generalize to other settings and identify the settings in which indulgent labels work best for encouraging healthy choices. It will also be important to test the efficacy of the intervention across demographic characteristics and different geographic regions.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The authors have no disclosures to report. This work was conducted in partnership with Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises and was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.


Turnwald BP, Boles DZ, Crum AJ. Association Between Indulgent Descriptions and Vegetable Consumption: Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets. JAMA Intern Med. Published online June 12, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.1637

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