The Health Halo – What It Is & How to Avoid It

By: Kayla Adams

We can all see why hummus makes for a healthier snack than Nutella. But sometimes, the differences between two products have more to do with clever, targeted marketing than the products themselves. This is called the “health halo” & it could be influencing your choices more than you think.


What Is the Health Halo?

The Health Halo refers to the act of overestimating the healthiness of an item based on a single claim. Plainly put: if a food has a positive attribute, marketers can hyperfocus on that attribute which causes a sort of “halo” that causes consumers to believe that other attributes associated with that food are also positive.  We may reach for these products instinctively, without really knowing whether evidence backs up their superiority for health.

For example, have you ever seen an “organic” label on something and assumed that it must be healthy? Me too! It happens all too often, but it stops now.


How does the Health Halo Happen?

One word: Marketing.

On Labels: Marketers strategically use buzzwords such as “organic”, “superfood”, non-GMO, all-natural, and low-fat knowing that it’s misleading and often doesn’t equate to meaning a whole lot as far as ingredients and nutritional value is concerned. These claims are placed on labels and hyped in commercials to get us to choose their product because we feel less guilty about what we’re consuming. We also tend to eat more than we would normally, getting us to buy more of that brand’s product in the long run!

In Product Names: But, the Health Halo doesn’t stop with label claims made by manufacturers and distributors. You can even see it in the way certain products are named! When we hear product names that we believe sound healthier, that’s what we’re more likely to choose.  A study showed when a dessert with a healthy-sounding name (“Cheesecake de’Lite”) and an unhealthy sounding name (Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheesecake) was placed side by side on a menu, customers most often preferred Cheesecake de’Lite. That’s not because the menu gave nutritional information that allowed them to make an informed choice, though. It’s because the name led them to believe it was the healthier option!

In Our Personal Opinions: Health Halos can be additionally influenced by personal judgments about a company. For example, if you’re in a rush and need to grab something quickly, Burger King may be ‘off-limits so it’s Subway instead. Why? Because Subway has made a name for themselves as having fresh ingredients so that we think of it of as the better option! The catch is that we’re actually “less accurate at estimating the calories in meals, underestimating intake by an average of 151 calories”, all because of our perception of the brand. Yes, Subway is a healthier alternative to Burger King when executed correctly but, like at every other restaurant, the options & additions you choose make the only real difference in your meal’s nutritional value.


Avoiding the Health Halo

Understand what it is and why it’s used
Knowledge is power! Once you understand why certain words are used or highlighted in packaging and promotions, the easier it is going to be to see through the marketing ploys. You’ll make better choices for you, your wellness, and your wallet because those “healthified” options aren’t usually the cheaper ones!

Make Informed Choices
When claims are made on a product, it’s important to continue on and read the remainder of the label to ensure that the other values are consistent with maintaining your weight loss and waistline.

  • Don’t stop at the words organic or all-natural without examining the actaul calories, sodium, sugars, and ingredients.
  • Just because a product says low-fat doesn’t mean it’s low in calories and sodium, or that it’s any healthier than an item that doesn’t claim to be low-fat.
  • Look at the packaging. Is it covered in buzzwords without any real information? Are all of the claims followed by an asterisk & disclaimers that negate the original claim?

Now that you understand what a Health Halo is and you have a few tips to avoid falling victim, you’re ahead of the game in your weight management journey.  Do the work to ensure that what you’re ingesting is truly what your body needs to maintain your health and vitality! Ignore buzzwords, slogans, and images that make foods appear healthier than the nutrition facts panel displays that they are. You deserve better than that!


Good luck; you’ve got this!