Science - November 25, 2009

The proof of health logos is yet to come

Health logos haven't proven their ability in spurring a buyer to make healthier choices, argues Hans Dagevos of the LEI. Dagevos is the editor of a collection of articles on health logos for food published early this month. In this book, various authors report on their experiences in logoland.

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Health logos need to give better information to a consumer to incur a change in behaviour, in such a way that healthy products are chosen more often. These logos clearly need to be taken with a pinch of salt because such a sticker also shows up on unhealthy products such as light chips, which nutritionists still consider as oily and full of acrylamide. 'The logo only gives an indication of the relative health aspects of a product within its category', explains Dagevos. 'This can confuse consumers a lot.' Therefore, you should interpret the logos as 'preferred choice'.
The healthy-choice-clover logo of Albert Heijn and the my-conscious-choice logo of the foundation with the same name (Ik Kies Bewust) currently grace products on supermarket shelves. From 1 January 2011, both logos will have to make way for one new health emblem, says minister Klink. This will make matters clearer to the consumer. However, Dagevos feels this move will be bad in some ways. 'A logo doesn't put things right', he says. 'More logos could lead to mutual competition and motivate companies to make their products even healthier. Besides, a company can use its own logo to market and position its product.'
About seventy percent of consumers say that a logo helps them to make healthier choices. But it's not as if consumers are waiting for a health logo. The publication cites the annual research into consumer trends by Deloitte, in which is stated that in 2008, only a quarter of the consumers trusted the logos. Sixty percent of them even consider the logos as unnecessary.
Ambitious
According to Dagevos, the strong growth of the logos is based on assumptions rather than on evidence of their effectiveness. 'The logos have lofty aims', he says. 'They not only want to spur consumers into a healthier buying behaviour, but also aim to lead to development of healthier products and even to improved public health. That's quite a tall order.' However, it has to be said that the food industry has improved the quality of many products in order to meet the criteria necessary to use a logo. Thanks to the logos, unhealthy trans fats have almost disappeared from most food items. The amounts of salt and sugar in many products have also been cut down.
Book: Gezondheidslogo's op eten. Verkenningen rond hun recente opmars.
Editors: Hans Dagevos & Ellen van Kleef
Wageningen  Academic Publishers, 2009. ISBN: 978-90-8686-136-1

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