“This Hamburger Destroys the Earth” Warning Helpful?

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Placing labels on fast-food menus warning that our choices are destroying the planet can help motivate us to make more sustainable choices. [사진=게티이미지뱅크]

Placing labels on fast-food menus warning that our choices are destroying the planet could help motivate us to make more sustainable choices, a study has found.

Professor Julia Wolfson, a food policy expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States, conducted an experiment to see if informing people about how much a meal contributes to climate change can encourage people to make more sustainable choices.

The researchers divided more than 5,000 participants into three groups and showed each group a fast food menu. The participants had to order one of 14 imaginary foods, each menu board was identical except for the way it was labeled.

The menu given to the first control group had a simple QR code displayed next to each item.

Menus in the second group had green footprints next to non-beef items such as chicken, fish and salads and said, ‘This menu is environmentally sustainable. It has low greenhouse gas emissions and a low impact on climate change.” It is to encourage the person choosing the menu to make a more sustainable choice.

The last group of menus has a red footprint next to the beef product and reads ‘This menu is not environmentally sustainable. It has a lot of greenhouse gas emissions and a big impact on climate change”. It was created with the intention of making food orderers less willing to order planet-bad menu items.

When the results were compared between the groups, the red label appeared to be the most effective. Compared to the control group, 23.5% more people in this group chose the menu without beef.

People who received a green-labeled menu also made more sustainable choices, but the impact was small. In this group, only 10% more people chose the sustainable menu compared to the control group.

Another drawback to green labeling beef-free items was revealed in a survey that participants completed after the trial. Participants rated how healthy their food choices were, and this group was more likely than the control group to rate their food choices as healthier. Nothing on the menu was actually healthy.

Professor Wolfson said that this is an example of the ‘health halo’ effect. The health halo effect refers to the fact that a certain food, nutritional content, or the language used in advertising (in this case, sustainability) makes consumers think that the food is good for their health.

The researchers acknowledged that there are several limitations to this study. One is that because the experiment was conducted by viewing virtual menus online, different choices could be made in the real world. Also, no dishes or drinks were included in the menu.

On the other hand, animal food production (mainly through beef) accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the foods with the greatest impact on the – climate change. This is due to the methane gas generated during the digestion of food and the environmental cost of creating pasture land to feed livestock and grow food.

The results of this study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, ‘JAMA Network Open’.

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