Individuals may consider organic an important factor when defining healthy food

January 8, 2015 by Barbara Benham

When it comes to defining healthy foods, some individuals may see organic as key. This is according to a study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. They examined consumers' understanding of healthy food and found that many thought organic was an important factor in deciding whether or not a particular food item is healthy. They also found that information about organic foods may compete with other healthy eating messages. In addition, some participants associated negative health outcomes with consuming non-organic foods.

The results are featured in the December 2014 issue of Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment.

For this qualitative study—which was part of a larger research project on healthy purchasing in a underserved, low-income neighborhood in Baltimore—researchers interviewed 30 adults about their understanding of healthy food. Twelve respondents included organic—or common characteristics of organic food—in their definition of , even though many of them did not have access to organic foods due to poor availability and affordability. Notably, all but one of the responses was unprompted. As for availability the main grocery store located in the participants' neighborhood only had one organic product at the time of the study - frozen strawberries.

"People's conceptions of healthy eating are very complex, and this study shows that organic can play an important role even when people don't have access or the means to purchase organic food," says Sarah Rodman, MPH, lead author and a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. "Interviewees described nutritious and organic as two, sometimes conflicting, elements of what makes a food healthy. This is one example of the myriad, sometimes conflicting messages that make it difficult to decide what to eat."

The term "organic" refers to how a food was produced, and is not an indicator of a food's nutritional quality.  Organic foods are generally produced without hormones, antibiotics, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and contain no genetically modified ingredients, but are not necessarily more nutritious than other foods. Those interviewed for the study mentioned many of these attributes in their interviews. 

Respondents framed most of the health benefits of eating organic in terms of avoiding the harmful effects of eating non-organic foods. Eating non-organic foods was thought to contribute to cancer, obesity, abnormal growth and development, allergies and mental health issues, due to the presence of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and preservatives.

"This study highlights how important it is for those crafting dietary messages to take into account consumers' perceptions of the healthfulness of ," says Anne Palmer, MAIA, co-author of the paper and director of the Food Communities and Public Health program at the CLF. "In order to empower consumers to make healthy choices, we need to create dietary advice that is culturally sensitive, based on economically accessible foods, and takes into account the many competing messages about diet and health that bombard consumers on a regular basis."

Explore further: Organic labels bias consumers perceptions through the 'health halo effect'

More information: Rodman, S. O., Palmer, A. M., Zachary, D. A., Hopkins, L. C. and Surkan, P. J. (2014), "They Just Say Organic Food Is Healthier": Perceptions of Healthy Food among Supermarket Shoppers in Southwest Baltimore. Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, 36: 83–92. doi: 10.1111/cuag.12036

Related Stories

Organic labels bias consumers perceptions through the 'health halo effect'

April 1, 2013
The word "organic" can mean many things to consumers. Even so, the power of an organic label can be very strong: studies have shown that this simple label can lead us to think that a food is healthier, through what is known ...

Eating organic food doesn't lower your overall risk of cancer, study says

March 28, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Women who always or mostly eat organic foods have the same likelihood of developing cancer as women who eat conventionally produced foods, according to an Oxford University study.

Review: Organic foods may be healthier

July 16, 2014
(HealthDay)—Organic produce and grains contain more protective antioxidants, less pesticide residue, and lower levels of the toxic metal cadmium than food raised in traditional ways, according to a new review. However, ...

Recommended for you

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RawFoodsNewsMagazine_com
not rated yet Jan 08, 2015
This is all the more reason why hospitals, airports and other institutions -- not to mention restaurants themselves -- need to offer USDA certified organically grown fresh produce as options, as very few of them do, and those of us who prefer to eat organic food have to starve when we are away from home!
Organic
not rated yet Jan 08, 2015
We must shift to organic farming so that our kids will have a healthy diet. Their food must be free from chemicals.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.