Consumers associate ‘organic’ with low-calorie, finds study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers associate ‘organic’ with low-calorie, finds study

Related tags: Obesity

Organic claims on food packaging could lead consumers to overeat or even exercise less, according to a new study published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making.

The study’s authors, from the University of Michigan, hypothesized that a “tendency to over-generalize health claims” ​could lead consumers of organic foods to assume that an organic label implies a less calorific product – not just one that is produced without synthetic chemicals. Both the terms ‘organic’ and ‘low-calorie’ are strongly associated with the concept of ‘healthy’ in contemporary America, they wrote, suggesting that “these associations might lead consumers to assume that foods produced organically contain fewer calories than their conventional counterparts, despite the fact that the ‘organic’ designation entails no such claim.”

In addition, they found that the influence of the organic claim on calorie judgments was most pronounced among participants for whom organic production was a particularly valued attribute.

Study methodology

The researchers conducted two experiments to see whether consumers might equate organic with fewer calories.

In the first study, they asked 114 college students to read nutrition labels for cookies labeled either ‘Oreo cookies’ or ‘Oreo cookies made with organic flour and sugar’, both clearly marked as containing 160 calories. They were then asked to rate whether they thought the cookies contained fewer or more calories than other cookie brands and whether they should be eaten more or less often than other cookie brands.

As predicted, the cookies described as ‘organic’ were perceived to have fewer calories, and participants also said the organic cookies could be eaten more often than the non-organic ones.

In a separate study, 215 college students read about a character who wanted to lose weight, but also wanted to skip her after-dinner run. They were told that she had chosen either an organic or non-organic dessert, or no dessert at all.

The participants were more likely to be lenient about the character’s choice to forego exercise when if she had chosen an organic dessert – and were even more lenient if she had chosen an organic dessert than if she had chosen no dessert at all.

"These findings suggest that 'organic' claims may not only foster lower calorie estimates and higher consumption intentions, but they may also convey that one has already made progress toward one's weight loss goal, thus undermining subsequent

goal-consistent action,"​ the researchers wrote.

The authors noted that their findings were in line with previous research that showed an association between certain label claims and unrelated characteristics; for example, understanding ‘low fat’ to mean that a product is low in calories, or ‘low cholesterol’ to mean that a product is low in fat.

Source: Judgment and Decision Making

Vol. 5, No. 3, June 2010

“The “organic” path to obesity? Organic claims influence calorie judgments and exercise recommendations”

Authors: Jonathon Schuldt and Norbert Schwarz

Related topics: Organics, R&D

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6 comments

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Lack of comprehension?

Posted by Docjape,

20 years ago, whilst at college in the UK, I was dating a girl who was adamant that organic foods were healthier than no organic, and the best way to keep fit and within a desired weight was to 'eat organic' - her friends expressed the same perception. I came to realise that the advertising of 'healthy' organic food had created an image of organic equals health equals fitness - flawed logic!

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RE: People are stupid

Posted by Mary,

Toxins are either fat or water soluble. Water soluble toxins do leave the body easily. Fat soluble get stored in the fat cells until the fat is released.

It is also said that low levels of toxic substances in the body can slow the metabolism.

My metabolism in the past was tested as slow. I refused to take synthroid, etc. In the past when I ate food that our family grew my metabolism was very fast.

Narrow thinking is one of the reasons this country is as sick as it is.

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PEOPLE ARE STUPID...

Posted by scc,

I think your whole line of JUNK you are trying to sell is CRAZY! If you knew anything about nutrition you would realize that the claim "eat everything organic...otherwise you gain weight cause your body cant process all the sugars and chemicals" is a load of *^$&! Items that your body cannot process or handle, such as high amounts of fructose (for some people) or olean (you know the "fat Free" fat in those chips people wanted to badly just bc they were fat free) are simply excreted by our bodies NOT stored as fat. In order for your body to store something as fat, FIRST it has to be adequately metabolized. Stop reading these stupid articles and comments as your education pieces America and DO SOME RESEARCH to learn the FACTS!!!

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