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Nutrition Behavior Demographics & Statistics Diet

Healthwashing: Truthful Or Faking It

2 weeks, 2 days ago

1765  0
Posted on Jul 05, 2024, 4 p.m.

Are people being truthful about how they are eating? Is eating healthy really catching on, or are people faking following a plant-based diet to say that they are keeping up with current trends? Do Americans know how to eat healthy? As it turns out 3 in 10 Americans buy healthy foods just because they are trendy, so fewer people may be committed to a more sustainable shopping list than you think.

According to a random double opt-in survey conducted by Talker Research (formerly OnePoll) on behalf of Zeal Creamery involving 2000 general population Americans looking at the nation’s food purchasing practices, 65% of the respondents grocery shopping habits are somewhat healthy, but when compared to other priorities healthiness was ranked fourth at 18%, falling behind 64% selecting cost as most important, 36% thought quality was most important, and 19% preferred to go with their personal preferences. 

Healthwashing refers to a tactic used on food labels to convey an impression of the item that may or may not be true. For example “real food” is an example of an unregulated term that does not clearly communicate how healthy something is, but can be loosely used to imply meaning anything to sway consumer opinion. 

82% of the respondents select products with general healthwashing terms on the labels that intend to suggest the healthiness of a product, 33% look for “multigrain”, 30% look for “sugar-free”, and 27% look for things labeled “organic”. 31% also thought that terms such as “high in” are positive, and 30% view “free-range” labels as being positive. “Organic produce” was the top grocery item that the respondents were willing to spend a little extra for. 

25% of the respondents said that they would spend more on organic produce, 24% said that they would spend more on things labeled as being “high in”, 21% spend more for thing labeled as sugar-free, 20% are willing to pay more for things that are labeled as reduced in fat/sugar/sodium, 20% will pay more for free range eggs and multigrain items, 19% don’t mind spending more for fortified products, 16% would spend more for organic dairy products, 16% don’t mind “light” products costing more, and 12% are fine with paying more for pasture raised or free range grocery items.

65% of the respondents were confident that they understood what organic means, 65% thought they new what sugar-free meant, and 64% thought they knew what multigrain meant, however, only 23% knew what a product meant by claiming to be “reduced” meant, 22% knew what “fortified with” meant, and 21% knew what “light” meant. 

There is a lot of confusion around healthwashing. When it comes down to it, with all of the healthwashing terms used on food packaging, 31% of the respondents reported feeling overwhelmed by the labels on all of the food that they see when they are shopping and trying to make selections. 30% of the respondents admitted to buying healthier foods just because they are trendy. 

Buying something just because it is trendy does not mean it is the best option. This behavior can lead to misinformation such as 38% of the respondents believing that fresh produce is always healthier than dried, frozen or canned options, 25% believing that all processed foods are bad, 21% thinking that milk alternatives are always healthier, and 1 in 8 respondents believe that all dairy products are not sustainably farmed. 

“The survey results reflect the reality that Americans can be exposed to exaggerated claims about the impact of dairy on the environment versus the positive impacts that pastoral, regenerative farming has on the environment,” says Jason Henshaw, president of Zeal Creamery, in a statement. “The upside is that there’s a huge opportunity for people to learn about dairy sustainability, regenerative grass-fed farming, and how to incorporate that into their choices.”

1 in 6 respondents put sustainability as an important factor when making grocery selections. That being said, only 7% knew that the production of rice can be harmful to the environment, 8% were aware that soybean production can be detrimental, only 8% knew that producing mineral water leaves a heavy footprint on the environment, and 10% new that producing almond milk takes a toll on the environment. 

18% of the respondents viewed the dairy industry’s impact on greenhouse emission as negative, however, 52% either weren’t sure or didn't believe that it had much effect. According to this analysis, the average American thinks that the global dairy industry contributes to 12% of the World’s greenhouse gas emission, which is three times more than the 4% that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reported

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that dairy cows contribute to only 1.3% of the American greenhouse gas emissions. When this information was revealed to the participants 25% were surprised to learn the factual numbers and 21% were interested in the revelation. According to Henshaw, this points out that “A lot of Americans enjoy dairy and want to feel good about their food choices.”

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. Additionally, it is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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