Halo on Fire: What is the Health Halo?

I discuss a marketing tactic trying to get you to buy products based on health merits.

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I think it’s time for me to get up off my ass and do some writing for my blog.  Instead of getting on my ass and writing for my assignments?  That doesn’t sound quite right, but whatever.

First, let me take you on a mystical, magical tour of going to a grocery store in America.  The first step is getting in a car.  Along the way, you pass by a restaurant promoting that their meats are “Antibiotic Free.”  Another restaurant proudly proclaims that they do not use GMOs in their meals.

While in the grocery store, there are many products available for any type of food you can imagine.  Foods labels promote the item inside as being “gluten-free,” or “reduced fat,” or any other label variety you can imagine (and label claims you can’t).  All these products are exhibiting what is called the “health halo.”  The health halo is more of a lose term, as a quick search online does not directly tell you what it means.  From what I have gathered, it means a food item is marketing itself as being a healthy choice, or at least a healthier choice, when compared to other products.

So what?  Why is this a big deal?  Well, for starters, this can skew consumer choice, which is what food companies want.  Organic food items sound healthier than conventional produce.  Organic products might have less antibiotic resistant bacteria on meats, or more phosphorous and omega-3 fatty acids, when compared to conventional products.  These health benefits can be eliminated though, if the product is something unhealthy, like in a candy.  Organic cane sugar is still added sugar.

As with the restaurants promoting antibiotic-free meat, or non-GMO ingredients in their meals, these phrases do not indicate things about how healthy the food is.  You can have antibiotic free, non-GMO meats and cheeses in a product, use only the finest of gluten-free flours to make breads, and any other health buzzword out there, and still wind up with an unhealthy product.  In the case of restaurants, assuming the meal IS in fact healthy, you can undo the health effects.

This begs the question:  Why should I care?  If you just want to eat whatever food, no amount of blog posts are going to change your mind.  However, I am focusing on those who will learn and become more aware.

So how can you avoid the “health halo?”  I recommend buying raw ingredients, like fruits and vegetables.  Reading the Nutrition Facts panel is also helpful.  Look for things like Calories, and added sugar.