Putting salad on a restaurant menu makes people more likely to choose the fries

Here’s an odd paradox: on menus where healthy food is offered alongside unhealthy food, people are more likely to choose the fat-filled fun. And the worst culprits? Healthy eaters.

So, in short, all that effort government officials and health groups go to in order to combat obesity by making McDonald’s serve salad is a complete waste of time. No…worse than that, it’s counterproductive. At least, according to a report in the New York Times. The paper quotes figures from the golden arches, which showed recently that McDonald’s spent one sixth of its advertising time on salads, but they only make 2 to 3 per cent of sales.

The NYT puts it down to “vicarious goal fulfillment.” Basically, a healthy option on the menu satisfies a need to be healthy even though you don’t actually order it. The hungry victim thinks: “oh, I’m at a place that serves healthy food, I deserve brownie points for that.”

A quarter of people in the UK are obese. Equally scary, only a third have a healthy BMI. Newly released figures show that 4,000 young people were admitted to hospital in 2009 from obesity-related problems.

Some politicians think physical education should be given the same status at schools as English, maths and science. Come to think of it, I’m surprised it’s not. But I’m not going to write a long diatribe about why exercise is good.

Bottom line: next time you’re tempted by the Big Mac, remember this article.

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