Have you ever stood in your grocer’s cookie aisle and reached for the box labeled ‘organic’ because you thought the contents would be lower in calories? After all organic foods equate healthy eating and healthy eating means consuming fewer calories – therefore, organic products must contain fewer caloires, right? If you have chosen organic products based on this mindset, you are not alone; however, you are not necessarily right either.
Researchers from The University of Michigan conducted two studies that investigated the influence of product label claims on perceptions of caloric content as well as views of how often the food can be eaten and perceptions of the necessity for engaging in exercise. The findings were published last June in the journal of Judgement and Decision Making and indicatedthat many of us tend to make erroneous inferences regarding a product if it is labeled “organic.”
The first study involved 114 college students (80 females and 34 males) who were randomly assigned to one of two testing situations involving reading a nutrition label that read either “Oreo cookies” or “Oreo cookies made with organic flour and sugar.” Both labels listed the serving size to be 2 cookies with a total of 160 calories per serving. Each group was then asked if they thought the cookies contained less or more calories compared to other cookie brands and if the Oreo cookies could be eaten more or less often than other cookie brands. Those participants that were shown the organic nutrition label were more likely to state that the organic Oreo cookies contained fewer calories than other brands and that it was acceptable to eat more of them than did those subjects that read the label from conventional Oreo cookies – even though both labels clearly indicated that a serving was equal to 160 calories.
The second study included 215 college students (117 females and 98 males). The purpose of this investigation was to see if product label claims would be extrapolated to lifestyle practices beyond nutrition (e.g., participation in physical activity). The subjects were randomly divided into 5 groups. All participants read a similar story about a character who was trying to lose weight by regularly running three miles after dinner, but who wanted to forgo the physical activity for the night. The subjects had to answer if they thought it was appropriate or not for her to do so after reading what she ate for dinner and dessert. The differing factor between the 5 subject groups was the nature of the dessert that the character ate: organic; non-organic; or, no dessert. The subjects who were told that an organic dessert was eaten were more likely to say it was acceptable for the character to skip the run compared to those subjects who read she ate a conventional dessert. Interestingly the former group was also more lenient about forgoing the exercise than was the group that read the character had no dessert; however, this finding was not statistically significant.
The investigators concluded that individuals tend to make overgeneralizations regarding “organic” claims on nutrition labels not only in terms of its caloric content but also on lifestyle behaviors, such as how often the product can be eaten and the amount of exercise needed. These findings highlight the necessity for individuals to increase their awareness about what a claim actually means. Furthermore, they need to pay particular attention to the facts listed on the label. Organic refers to the methods by which the ingredients were produced (e.g., without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides). It does not imply anything about total amount of calories or the product’s fat, sugar, and sodium content. That information is listed under the nutritional information section of the label. Neglecting to read this information can result in an over-consumption which, in turn, can lead to weight gain.
Did you think organic meant low calorie? Share with us, we want to know!
Source for more information:
Judgement and Decision Making, Volume 5, Number 3, June 2010, pp. 144-150, “The ‘organic’ path to obesity? Organic claims influence calorie judgements and exercise recommendations,” Schuldt, J.P. et al.,.