Effects of Subtle and Explicit Health Messages on Food Choice

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Explicitly—as opposed to subtly—labeling a food healthy may inadvertently license people to indulge, imply that the food tastes bad, or lead to reactance. We investigated the effects of explicit and subtle health messages on individuals’ food selection in two field studies.


We manipulated the signs on healthy foods such that they explicitly stated that the food was healthy, subtly suggested it with an image, or did not mention health. As participants—attendees at academic conferences—approached registration tables, research assistants recorded the number and type of snacks individuals chose.


Participants were more likely to choose the healthy food when it was labeled with the subtle health message than when it was labeled with the explicit health message, which itself was not more effective than the control message.


Subtle messages may be more useful than explicit health messages in encouraging individuals to make a healthy snack choice.

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