Low-Fat Labels Make Us Stuff Ourselves

One doesn't think of New Yorkers as particularly gullible or naive, but when it comes to food, we're totally clueless and assume that anything labeled low-fat is automatically low-calorie—at least according to marketing guru Pierre Chandon, who's turned his attention to discovering why Americans, despite being so rich and well-informed, are still such fatties. The Times took his questionnaires out into the field and discovered that "health halos"—ideas about which foods are virtuous based on health campaigns and restaurant advertising—meant that even the know-it-alls in Park Slope embarrassed themselves when it came to guessing calorie content.

The mere addition of two "Trans Fat Free" Fortt crackers to an Applebees meal led people to "magically" assume the meal had fewer calories than the same meal without the crackers, as compared to foreign tourists who, not having been indoctrinated by the trans fat debate, guessed that the meal with crackers would contain more calories.

So what did this mean? Duh, that a French person could indulge in his favorite pastime: acting superior about food.

"Being French, I don't have any problem with people enjoying lots of foods. Europeans obsess less about nutrition but know what a reasonable portion size is and when they have had too much food, so they're not as biased by food and diet fads and are healthier."

For example, Parisians love McDonalds! And interrupting Le Big Mac to smoke a cigarette aids digestion.

Health Halos Can Hide the Calories [NYT]