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Communicating both risk and benefit information

When making healthy food choices, consumers frequently need to make trade-offs between the risks and benefits associated with the consumption of food products.

As a consequence, communication about both nutritional benefits and risk is required. It is not clear how this potentially conflicting information can best be communicated. Consumers may face difficulties in balancing potential risks against health benefits related to consumption changes when faced with conflicting information about both risks and benefits.

Some advice:

  • Providing balanced information about a food with a predominantly healthy image only worsens consumers’ perception of that food as being a healthy and nutritious food. This was found regarding a study on fish benefits and risks.
  • The presentation order of benefits and risks in the balanced message showed a tendency to affect both behavioural intention and consumer perception, with the first message component being most influential.
  • When communicating benefits, one should take into account that the wording of a benefit could bring negative associations. Consumers are convinced that eating fish is healthy and particular emphasis should be on communicating benefits from fatty fish consumption. However people might perceive "fatty" in general as negative. By communicating benefits from fatty fish consumption respondents may perceive this as receiving contradictory information (in the case of meat, "fatty" is associated with unhealthy), which has been shown to have a negative influence.
  • Consumer attitudes play a role. Communication of joint information about risks and benefits might change attitudes only for consumers with weak or ambivalent attitudes. Consumers with strongly held attitudes might not be influenced by this.

 

Conflict and confusion can arise when consumers are faced with a food that holds both risky and beneficial health properties.