Health/Fitness

Healthy fast food menus not working

Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Salad, burger

A salad and a hamburger from a fast food restaurant.

For years most fast food restaurants have offered their customers healthy options, yet America's obesity rates continue to rise.

With that in mind, a marketing professor at Duke's Fuqua School of Business set out to figure out why.

Salads, yogurt and fruit cups are all standard fare on fast food menus, but few customers actually order those items.

"When you have a salad there on the menu, not only do you not pick it, it actually leads you to splurge and pick the least healthy thing on the menu," explained Gavin Fitzsimons, Duke marketing professor.

Fitzsimons' research shows the presence of healthy options actually leads people to over indulge and pick things that are really bad for them.

"In a way, [it] seems kind of crazy," Fitzsimons said. "How can this good thing lead you to do this bad behavior? What we find is that presence of the healthy option on the menu seems to make people feel like they've satisfied their goal of being healthy."

Fitzsimons says once a person has healthy meal, then they justify having something fattening.

"You can say, I had a salad yesterday for lunch, I'll have the extra large fries," he said. "Or, I'm going to have a salad tomorrow for lunch; I'll have the extra large fries."

Fitzsimons believes that is what's happening in school cafeterias across America and there needs to be some serious changes if schools really want children to eat healthy.

"We've got to really take sort of dramatic steps and get rid of all the unhealthy stuff," Fitzsimons said.

He said while we'll have a short term revolt from children, in the long run, they will be much better off it their options are taken away.

"I think the biggest risk is this compromise of, well let's offer a couple of healthy options, that seems like a good compromise and unfortunately while a couple of kids will chose them, it will actually steer most of the children towards the least healthy things out there," Fitzsimons explained.

And what's interesting is that the participants in the research all possessed high levels of self-control related to food choices and they still made bad decisions. So, imagine what happens when children are faced with the same choices?

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