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Calling Jelly Beans "Fruit Chews" Makes You Fat

Attention jelly bean calorie counters, here's how the health halo lays your good intentions to waste in the candy aisle.

All of us, even professional dieticians, make mistakes, especially when it comes to estimating the calories on a plate. One of the more common mistakes is known by marketing researchers as the halo bias, which is the tendency for labels or marketing claims to make us incorrectly judge the calories in food.

Take this recent study, summarized by Chistopher Shea, at the Wall Street Journal's "Ideas Market" and published last week in the Journal of Consumer Research. In it, 170 college students were divided among dieters and non-dieters and presented with Jelly Belly candies while watching a movie.

The researchers called the candies either “fruit chews” or “candy chews.” When the Jelly Bellies were called “candy chews,” the dieters rated them as significantly less tasty. Dieters also ate 25 percent more of them when they were called “fruit chews.” (They didn't look into the other curious aspect of candy selection, which comes into play with Jelly Belly, repetitive sounding names.)

On the one hand, that's great. Dieters are trying to eat more of things they think are healthy, like “fruit chews.” On the other hand, the Jelly Bellies are still Jelly Bellies.

While categorizing foods is designed to help consumers regulate their food intake, Dr. Pierre Chandon, a French researcher, has suggested in a forthcoming chapter in Foundation and Trends in Marketing, that the intended results of labeling food healthy or organic may actually lead to people underestimating their calorie content, as in the case of the dieters who ate so many “fruit chews.”

Keep that in mind if you encounter any organic, healthy, fruity, or low-sugar jelly beans this weekend.

Photo (cc) Like_the_Grand_Canyon

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