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Snack Food Packaging Commits ‘Health-Washing’?

Snack food packaging caught my eye recently. This time, it was health claims made on the packaging (not environmental claims about the packaging) that made me think.

I came across a vending machine with two small packages of Cheez-It® Baked Snack Crackers, each labeled as a one-serving size.

One of the options was the 0.77-ounce, 100 Calorie Right Bites pouch, which touted the benefits of the low calorie count, 100 percent real cheese and 0 grams of transfat. The snack had 230 mg of sodium and cost 75 cents.

In the same machine was a 1.5-ounce, 210-calorie bag of the exact same crackers, made of 100 percent real cheese and 0 grams of transfat. The snack had 320 mg of sodium and cost 50 cents.

Now, let’s examine the data: The first option, the healthier choice according to the packaging, had half the contents of the other bag but was essentially the exact same product (made of 100 percent real cheese and 0 grams of transfat). And, proportionally, the sodium content was actually higher (health scientists, how is that possible?). Furthermore, the cost of the smaller packaging was 50 percent more. And, yet, people were buying the Right Bites package because of the perceived health benefits.

If people had simply bought the 1.5-ounce bag and divided the crackers into two snacks, they would have had two of the same “healthy” snacks for 50 cents (which is three times less than the $1.50 they would spend for the two smaller bags). The threefold difference seems like a ridiculous price to pay for essentially no benefit.

For me, this example shows the strong parallels between misleading health and environmental claims. In the environmental realm, such claims that are irrelevant, vague or misleading are considered greenwashing. So, is this packaging guilty of “health-washing”?

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