Background (Background, Rationale, Prior Research, and/or Theory): Front-of-package labels are used to guide product choices and to evaluate the healthiness of a food. Previous research using focus groups has indicated that when parents perceive that another adult is evaluating them, they are more likely to choose products for their children with front-of-package labels that appear healthier.
Objective: The objective of this study was to determine if the findings of the focus group could be replicated experimentally.
Study Design, Setting, Participants, Intervention: The study was an experimental, within-subjects design. Data were collected using Amazon Mechanical Turk. Parents of preschool-aged children (N = 388) living in the U.S. read eight different scenarios, half of which included social evaluation from other adults and half of which did not.
Outcome Measures and Analysis: In response to each scenario, participants chose either a yogurt cup with a 100% natural front-of-package label or a yogurt cup with a dinosaur-themed front-of-package label. Participants also completed a health consciousness measure and indicated how much they would pay for each yogurt cup. Hypotheses were tested with paired-samples t-tests and Pearson's correlation coefficients.
Results: Participants selected the 100% natural yogurt significantly more often than the dinosaur yogurt when being socially evaluated than when no social evaluation was present, P = .003. Additionally, participants with higher levels of health consciousness selected the 100% natural yogurt more often regardless of the situation, P = .000. Participants also rated the 100% natural yogurt as significantly healthier than the dinosaur yogurt, P = .000, and perceived natural yogurt as more expensive than the dinosaur yogurt, P = .006.
Conclusions and Implications: Social evaluation is associated with choosing a product with a front-of-package label that is perceived as healthier. This suggests that social evaluation could be used to help parents make healthier food choices for children. Future research should investigate if the effectiveness of social evaluation for influencing food choice relies on accurate front-of-package labels and consumer knowledge.
Funding: Eastern Connecticut State University.
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