American Society For Nutrition

Food Messages: Are We Taking the Wrong Approach?

Food Messages: Are We Taking the Wrong Approach?

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 12/17/2012 at 02:50:01 PM by Student Blogger
By Sarah Gold

Deciding what and how much to eat has become a complicated decision for many people. According to Brian Wansink, PhD, we make over 200 food decisions per day. That's a lot of decisions, and leaves a lot of room for outside influence. Nutrition and public health professionals strive to make it easier for consumers to make healthier decisions, which has sometimes led to food being put into one of two categories: good or bad. Our food culture has become one of “eat this not that,” which may have unintended consequences, according to a new study published in the journal Appetite.

Researchers from Scotland and Australia looked at the effect of both positive and negative advertising messages surrounding chocolate consumption on feelings towards chocolate as well as on chocolate consumption. Eighty normal weight, young women (17-26 years old) were categorized as either restrictive (on a diet) or non-restrictive eaters (not on a diet). Each participant was shown a group of advertisements that featured either thin or overweight models along with a positive or negative message about chocolate. The advertisements were based on messages that are currently found in the media, including popular diet websites.  Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire, which evaluated the effect of the ad on the participants desire to eat chocolate, as well as feelings of guilt. After viewing the messages, participants were also offered a bowl of chocolate.

It turns out dieters were more easily enticed by the ads than non-dieters, and ultimately ate more chocolate than the non-dieters, but also felt more guilt afterwards. The thin models appeared to have a greater influence on this group, but the type of message didn't appear to make much of a difference. However, non-dieters were more likely to eat chocolate after seeing the negative advertisements with messages such as “Milk chocolate is high in calories, saturated fat, and sugar,” or “Chocolate: a moment on the lips, forever on the hips.”

These results suggest that creating negative health messages may make those forbidden foods even more difficult to resist, which the authors state is a common reaction to advice designed to change health related behaviors. Dieters also appear to be more affected by the messages about chocolate, indicating that restricting certain foods may lead to overindulgence later on.

While these results are limited to a young female population, and were seen in a food that is known to be difficult for many women to resist, they add to the evidence that labeling food “off limits” can have the exact opposite effect that the message intended. As the authors of the study note, when it comes to health messages, framing them in a positive way may be more beneficial. Perhaps we should spend more time encouraging people to eat more of the foods that provide nutritional benefits and put less focus on avoiding unhealthy foods. 

Durkin, K., Hendry, A., Stritzke, W. (2013). Mixed selection. Effect of body images, dietary restraint, and persuasive messages on females' orientations toward chocolate. Appetite; 60: 95-102.

Wansink, Brian and Jeffrey Sobal (2007). “Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook.” Environment and Behavior, 39:1 (January), 106-23.

Posted Dec 17, 2012 3:10 PM by Luis

Negative food messages should never be used

Absolutely correct mr. David public need good dietary advice.

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