Healthful Food Perceptions Influenced by Price

Healthful Food Perceptions Influenced by PriceHealthful Food Perceptions Influenced by Price

Healthy food can be expensive. But according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, something really funky is going on with how consumers view the health level of a food relative to its price. 

Basically, researchers found that the higher the price of a food, the more likely people were to think it was healthy. What’s more, they sometimes refused to believe that a food was healthy when it was inexpensive. 

So how did researchers discover this faulty shopping method among consumers? People were asked to assign estimated prices to products based on their provided healthiness rating and choose the healthier meal between two options with prices included in the description, reported.

Researchers were surprised to find that the more expensive products were consistently considered healthier, and the expectation that a healthy product would be more costly also remained constant. Another part of the study found that a food product that promoted eye health actually made people consider eye health a more serious issue when the price for that product was higher—for real.

Researchers were not only surprised by the results of the study but also worried. “It’s concerning. The findings suggest that price of food alone can impact our perceptions of what is healthy and even what health issues we should be concerned about,” said Rebecca Reczek, coauthor of the study and professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. 

Clearly, these findings are a bit troubling considering it’s very possible to eat healthy food on a budget and that there are lots of factors to consider besides price when evaluating the overall quality of a food.

Perhaps the distinction that people are generally mistaking is the difference between “health food” and regular old healthy food—like vegetables. Plus, most of the major misconceptions about what makes food healthy have to do with labeling. “Organic labeling is important and many foods indeed are healthier when organic, but this does not mean that all foods require this labeling,” says Dr. Jaime Schehr, an expert in weight management and integrative nutrition.

Of course, there are times when spending a little extra cash in the name of health is worth it. For example, it’s widely agreed upon that you should probably buy organic spinach, as the leafy green absorbs pesticides. There are, however, some instances when you really don’t need to splurge. For example, “organic bananas are a waste,” says Auslander. “Nothing is penetrating that thick peel.” 

So, next time you head to the grocery store, take notice of what’s behind your decisions on what makes it into your cart: Is it the food itself, or price sticker?

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