Fish: Friend or Foe? Food Policy and Subpopulation Warnings for Consumers

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Fish is a healthy food that provides valuable nutrients for heart health and cognitive development. However, for some subpopulations, consuming fish containing higher levels of methylmercury may pose a health risk. This research seeks to identify the impact of including a seafood warning disclosure in the advertisement of a can of tuna fish on consumers' purchasing behaviors. An experimental survey is employed to examine the resulting impact for two segments of the population: those considered at risk for methylmercury overexposure and all others. Findings indicate the use of warning disclosures increases respondents' negative product perceptions without significantly altering positive product perceptions. Attention to the warning is short-lived and does not significantly impact perceived healthful levels of consumption. Modeling purchase behavior using a random utility choice framework indicates that the inclusion of a warning in an advertisement of a can of tuna fish has no adverse affect on purchase behaviors for the population not at-risk and may, in certain cases, serve to decrease tuna purchase likelihood for 'at-risk' respondents. Communicating advisory statements on healthy products, such as fish, creates a public health challenge; message pre-testing is imperative.

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