«IF IT’S HEALTHY AND YOU KNOW IT, DO YOU EAT? HEALTH PROMPTS REDUCE PRESCHOOLERS’ CONSUMPTION Michal Maimaran Northwestern University Ayelet ...»
In particular, in ANOVA with correct recall (yes vs. no) and condition at t1 (healthy vs. yummy) as independent variables and consumption as the dependent variable, neither main effect nor the interaction were significant (p.28). This suggests that health information reduces consumption among children only when it is emphasized at the time of consumption (i.e., at t1, when children consumed the crackers immediately after hearing the story). When the health information is not emphasized, even if the child can retrieve it, it does not impact consumption; thus attention to healthfulness, rather than knowledge about it, causes the effect.
Choice: We find a marginal effect of the message manipulation on choice between the Wheat Thins and Ritz crackers (X2(2) = 4.63, p =.09). Consistent with our prediction, children in the “yummy” condition planned to consume the crackers more than those in the “healthy” condition, as they were more likely to choose them over the Ritz crackers (Myummy = 65% vs.
Mhealthy = 32%, X2(1) = 4.62, p.05). Children in the control condition were in the middle (46%) and not significantly different than those in the “yummy” and “healthy” conditions. Similar to the consumption results, choice at t2 was similar across the two conditions (i.e., comparing those who originally were in the “healthy” and “yummy” conditions at t1;, X2(1) 1), suggesting health information reduces planned consumption also only when it is emphasized at the time of choice (figure 3). Finally, current consumption was positively correlated with planned consumption (r(57) =.42, p.005).
Taken together, these results confirm our hypothesis that marketing food as healthy decreases preschoolers’ tendency to consume it, leading to decreased current and planned consumption. Importantly, whereas our first study found health claims do not increase
parents) found health claims actually decrease consumption. The experimental approach is superior to the survey used in the first study in the sense that we could manipulate which benefits are emphasized, allowing isolation of the distinct effect of each. Because we further tested children’s actual consumption, as opposed to parents’ recollections, we can conclude an emphasis on health not only does not help but it can backfire and reduce actual consumption.
STUDY 3: HEALTH FRAME UNDERMINES CONSUMPTION AND EVALUATION OF
Our third study had two main goals. First, we test whether preschoolers experience healthy-framed foods as less tasty, thereby decreasing their consumption. We predict that an emphasis on health benefits (an instrumental benefit) undermines perceived taste (an experiential benefit) and the result is lower consumption. Second, we examine whether the effect of reduced consumption is replicable among younger children (ages 3-4).
To test our predictions, we ran a study similar to our second study, with several modifications. First, we included post-eating liking measures to assess taste perception. Second, because in study 2 “yummy” and “control” frames had similar effects on consumption, we compared a message containing only health information to a control message that did not emphasize any benefits of the crackers. In particular, unlike study 2 where the control condition did not present any message, in this study the control condition presented a similar message to the one in the health condition, but without emphasizing any benefits.
Forty-nine children (age range = 3-4 years; 41% female) were assigned to either a healthy-frame or control-frame condition. All participants first went through a preliminary training procedure for the “hand-opening” measure (Egan and Diermeier, 2012), which we later used to measure liking. Specifically, the experimenter first asked the children if they liked puppies, and then asked them to show how much they liked puppies by opening their hands. The experimenter explained that if they liked puppies a lot, they should open their hands wide, but if they did not like them very much, they should open their hands a little. The children then opened their hands accordingly, and the experimenter measured the hand spans using a measuring tape.
The experimenter repeated the same procedure with spiders, to train the children how to use their hand spans when they did not like an item. In some cases, children did not like puppies or did like spiders, so the experimenter replaced puppies with other non-food liked items (e.g., cats, going to the beach) and replaced spiders with other non-food disliked items (e.g., germs, going to the dentist). Finally, the experimenter measured the full span of their hands to serve as a baseline.
Then, depending on the experimental condition, the experimenter read a story that either emphasized the health benefits or not (figure 4). As in study 2, the experimenter then offered all children the opportunity to eat the crackers from the story. After finishing eating, the children returned to the main experiment table, where they were asked to evaluate the crackers on three
measures: (1) Smiley scale (Birch, Zimmerman, and Hind, 1980; Macklin and Machleit, 1990):
The experimenter asked the child to indicate which face represented how much they enjoyed the crackers (see figure 5). If they liked the crackers a lot, they were told to choose the right-most
liked the crackers only somewhat, or were not sure, they were instructed to choose the middle face. (2) Similarity scale: The experimenter asked the children to place a model of the Wheat Thins crackers on a scale, where one side was marked with a picture of ice cream and another side with a picture of an onion (see figure 5). A pretest with 17 moms of children in the relevant age group, showed ice cream and onions are the food items children in this age group like and dislike the most, respectively. The assumption in this scale is that placing the model close to the ice cream (onion) indicated the child’s increased (decreased) liking of the crackers. For this assumption to be valid, the experimenter first verified the child indeed liked (disliked) ice cream (onions). In the rare cases in which the child liked onions (all participants liked ice cream), we replaced them with eggplants or mushrooms. (3) Hand-opening measure: The experimenter asked the children to indicate by opening their hands how yummy these crackers were, and then measured their open span with a measuring tape. The experimenter then thanked participants, gave them a small thank-you gift, and had them return to class activities.
Results and Discussion Two children did not want to eat at all (one from each condition), and three children (two from healthy and one from control conditions) were highly distracted (e.g., left in the middle of the experiment), resulting in a valid sample of 44 children. Including everyone in the analysis
As predicted, children in the “healthy” condition ate fewer crackers than children in the “control” condition (Mhealthy = 4.67, SD = 5.54; Mcontrol = 10.00, SD = 5.93; t(42) = 3.07, p.005), extending study 2’s results to a younger population.
To assess liking, we first obtained a measure of the hand-opening measure by dividing children’s responses to the “how yummy” question by the overall span of their hands, resulting in a score between 0 (no liking) and 1 (highest liking possible). Then, after standardizing all three variables (hand-opening, smiley, and similarity scales), we created an average score (Cronbach's alpha =.54). As predicted, participants in the “healthy” condition liked the crackers less than those in the “control” condition (Mhealthy = -.196, SD =.93; Mcontrol =.197, SD =.37;
t(42) = 1.86, p =.035, one-tail).
To test whether liking mediates the effect of framing on consumption, we also establish the effect of the proposed mediator (liking) on the dependent variable, consumption, controlling for the framing manipulation (t(41) = 2.08, p.05), in addition to establishing above the (marginal) effect of the framing manipulation on liking. Following the bootstrapping procedure (Preacher and Hayes 2004; Zhao, Lynch, and Chen 2010) with 5,000 resamples and setting a 95% confidence interval, we find significant mediation (B =.99, Low C.I. =.0634, High C.I. = 2.507).
To summarize, our second study replicates the effect of health (vs. neutral) marketing pitch on consumption, such that a health pitch decreases consumption. Additionally, we find support for the process by which health messages reduce food consumption: the health pitch (an instrumental benefit) decreases enjoyment of the crackers (an experiential benefit), such that
Across three studies, using parents and children, with both within- and between-subjects measures, and using correlational and experimental designs, we find consistent evidence that emphasizing the health benefits of a food item, relative to emphasizing its taste benefits or nothing at all, decreases preschoolers’ consumption (current and planned) by leading to lower taste ratings. Emphasizing health information shifts the attention from experiential, taste-related benefits to instrumental, health-related benefits. This shift makes eating an extrinsically motivated activity, which in turn undermines the experience of taste and lowers consumption among young children.
Our first study finds that although parents report using health-based arguments more often than they use taste-based arguments to convince their children to eat vegetables, the health–based arguments do not increase consumption above and beyond merely serving these vegetables, whereas taste-based arguments do. Building on this finding, our second study provides direct evidence for the failure of health-based arguments and shows that children between four and a half and five and a half years old consume less and are less likely to choose the consumed crackers when these crackers are presented as healthy, as compared to when no information is presented or the crackers are presented as tasty. These effects were not present after a two-week delay, suggesting attention to health messages, rather than knowledge about
believe in a general negative relationship between taste and health but attention to health benefits negatively affects their experience. Finally, our last study extends the effect on consumption to children three to four years old, showing also that emphasizing health benefits leads to the perception of food items as less tasty compared to no emphasis. Moreover, the reduced liking for the health-framed crackers mediates the effect on consumption.
Relation to Prior Research and Boundary Conditions Prior research on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation focused on the role of rewards, showing that rewards often undermine intrinsic motivation once removed, especially among young children (e.g., Lepper et al. 1973; but see Cooke et al. , who show that rewards may not undermine consumption of a disliked food). Building on this literature, one can think of the health benefits presented in our research as rewards. Against this view, we argue our studies also presented taste benefits (“yummy” condition, study 2), which can be construed as rewards, but had no effect on consumption relative to the no-emphasis condition. Importantly, even if the health benefits formed a psychological reward, we find a decrease in consumption (i.e., lower intrinsic motivation) while the benefits are in place, and no effect when they are removed, unlike prior research that primarily found the decrease in motivation when the external rewards were removed.
Our research contributes to our understanding of how emphasizing instrumental versus experiential benefits affects motivation and overall experience. Whereas prior research compared mostly an experiential versus instrumental focus (Fishbach and Choi 2012), we show here that
focus on instrumental benefits decreases motivation, and not that experiential benefits increases motivation.
Our research adds also to the growing body of literature about the effect of marketing pitches that make health claims on consumption and enjoyment of food (Raghunathan et al.
2006; Wansink and Chandon 2006). Unlike Irmak et al. (2011), who show that healthy names (e.g., fruit chews) can increase consumption, taste ratings, and health ratings, especially among chronic dieters, we show that emphasizing health benefits actually decreases consumption and taste ratings. Presumably, this decrease occurs because children, unlike adults, rely mainly on taste when deciding what and how much to eat, due to lower self-control, desire for immediate rewards, and weak health goals. As such, they are not affected by the “guilt-reducing” mechanism these health messages provide. Our findings also differ from those of Raghunathan et al. (2006), who show that framing food as healthy (vs. unhealthy) can negatively impact adults’ taste ratings. First, we present a stronger test, as we show this effect relative to control (noframe) and taste-frame conditions while keeping the emotional aspects of all appeals equally positive. Moreover, the effect of health messages found by Raghunathan et al. (2006) could be due to the complex associations between fatty (unhealthy) food and good taste (Kahkonen and Tuorila 1999), or dieting tendencies (Irmak et al. 2011) adults may have, whereas preschoolers are unlikely to have developed and rely on these associations or to have dieting goals.
An important question arising from this research is what constitutes as healthy among young children. In this research, we used one aspect of healthy food, namely, food that makes one feel “strong and healthy and gives energy” (figure 1). Future research can look into whether other aspects of healthiness, such as “good for you” or “helps you stay in shape,” also have a