A recent study analyzed how people's food ordering habits changed when labels were placed next to dish selections on a fast food menu that indicated the food's supposed impact on climate change, and the study discovered that people who ate "sustainable" labeled options believed their fast food to be more healthy.
Participants who were exposed to a red "high-climate impact label" next to certain beef menu options were nearly a quarter less likely to order those options compared to a control group where no such label was present, according to the Daily Mail.
The red label read, "This item is not environmentally sustainable. It has high greenhouse gas emissions and a high contribution to climate change," whereas a green label stated that, "This item is environmentally sustainable. It has low greenhouse gas emissions and a low contribution to climate change."
The study found that those who ordered sustainable menu items also perceived their selections to be "healthier" than the unsustainable alternatives.
The researchers, led by Julia Wolfson, suggested that this perceived link between sustainability and healthiness was "problematic in the restaurant setting" because "many of the more sustainable (ie, non–red meat-based) items are still high in calories, saturated fat, added sugar, and salt."
"Positively framed sustainability labels on unhealthy items," they warned, "could mislead consumers to perceive unhealthy foods as healthy, thereby encouraging consumption of these items."
According to the study, 23.5 percent more participants in the group exposed to red warning labels ordered a "sustainable" menu item, which included chicken, fish, and plant-based products. Additionally, when green labels indicating a positive impact on the climate were put next to those products, 10 percent more participants ordered them.
Differences were reported between men and women, with the latter more likely to respond to the labels and choose the sustainable option, however no other sociodemographic factors showed any meaningful distinctions.
The study was conducted online among 5,049 adults in the US, and approved by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institutional Review Board.
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