Sian Claire Owen, Medical Journalist for Cardio Debate

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine [1] suggests that the language used to describe vegetable dishes can influence people’s food choices and result in higher vegetable consumption.

Current wisdom dictates that promoting healthy benefits of vegetables encourages people to make better choices in what they eat. However, the results of this study suggests otherwise.

Researchers from Stanford University tested how language can affect food choices in diners. Each day, in the University canteen, one vegetable was promoted and randomly labelled as either ‘basic’, ‘healthy restrictive’, ‘healthy positive’ or ‘indulgent’. No changes were made to the food itself.

They found that 25 per cent more people selected the ‘indulgent’ options compared to the ‘basic’ descriptor, 41 per cent more than the ‘healthy restrictive’ option and 35 per cent more than the healthy-positive description.

Furthermore, indulgent labelling of vegetables resulted in a 23 per cent increase in mass of vegetables consumed overall.

This is significant. Obesity levels are increasing worldwide, and are considered a ticking public health time bomb. Recent data published in the New England Journal of Medicine [2] states that in 2015 high BMI levels accounted for over 4 million deaths worldwide. Of these deaths 70 per cent were due to cardiovascular diseases, 60 per cent of which were in people with obesity. Tragically, this human suffering is largely preventable.

So to talk about ‘sizzling green beans’ and ‘twisted carrots’ may seem light-hearted, but these results point towards a possible solution in tackling the obesity epidemic.

Furthermore, previous marketing studies carried out in 2012 show that children prefer lots of choices and colours on their plates compared to adults. [3]

Therefore, a more creative approach towards labelling vegetables, coupled with colourful and varied presentation could easily target youngsters and help tackle the urgent issue of childhood obesity, something that we wrote about recently. [4]

The saying goes, where there is a will there’s a way. The question remains – is there the will?