New research by Kiel University, Germany, has shown that unhealthy food is widely associated with being tasty, and taste is the main driver of food decisions.
During the study, participants were given a variety of yogurts that differed in sugar and fat quantity. Even when they were given information about the ingredients, this was not sufficient to encourage people to choose the healthier yogurt. This strategy was especially ineffective for people who needed it most, because the least health-conscious people were also the least likely to take any new health information into consideration.
Even though some health-conscious people modified their behavior slightly when given better information on the product, both the informed and uninformed unhealthy people expressed firm opinions that the less healthy yogurts were tastier. It was this tastiness factor that, in the end, drove the decision-making for both healthy and unhealthy people, and it could not be overcome simply by raising health consciousness.
The authors concluded, "Policy planners must instead find ways to make healthy foods more appealing, by improving the actual taste as well as the packaging and marketing, and by investing in social campaigns which work on consumer's emotions and encourage a sense that healthy eating is 'cool' and prestigious. Overall, a holistic approach is urgently needed to find mutually beneficial strategies to combat the world's alarming obesity epidemic."
The study has been published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.