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See salad, eat fries: When healthy menus backfire
Date:4/21/2009

DURHAM, N.C. - Just seeing a salad on the menu seems to push some consumers to make a less healthy meal choice, according a Duke University researcher.

It's an effect called "vicarious goal fulfillment," in which a person can feel a goal has been met if they have taken some small action, like considering the salad without ordering it, said Gavan Fitzsimons, professor of marketing and psychology at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, who led the research.

In a lab experiment, participants possessing high levels of self-control related to food choices (as assessed by a pre-test) avoided french fries, the least healthy item on a menu, when presented with only unhealthy choices. But when a side salad was added to this menu, they became much more likely to take the fries.

The team's findings are available in the online version of the Journal of Consumer Research, and will appear in its October 2009 print edition.

Although fast-food restaurants and vending machine operators have increased their healthy offerings in recent years, "analysts have pointed out that sales growth in the fast-food industry is not coming from healthy menu items, but from increased sales of burgers and fries," Fitzsimons said. "There is clearly public demand for healthy options, so we wanted to know why people aren't following through and purchasing those items."

Working with co-authors Keith Wilcox and Lauren Block of Baruch College, and Beth Vallen of Loyola College in Maryland, Fitzsimons asked research participants to select a food item from one of two pictorial menus. Half of the participants saw a menu of unhealthy items, including only french fries, chicken nuggets and a baked potato with butter and sour cream. The rest of the participants were given the same three options, plus the choice of a side salad.

When the side salad was added, a few consumers did actually choose it. However, the vast majority of consumers did not,
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Contact: Laura Brinn
laura.brinn@duke.edu
919-660-2903
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert

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