Everywhere we turn, we see those warnings from the U.S. government and health agencies, also known as the “food police,” sending us the negative message about unhealthy foods and that all sugar is bad, yet, why do we still consume these foods? A recent study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research reveals that it is all in the message. These negative warnings we receive from the “food police” actually do have an impact on how much unhealthy foods we consume.
A team of researchers at Arizona State University conducted three studies to determine the outcome of choices made by participants that had seen either a negative or positive message regarding certain unhealthy foods. The first study consisted of 380 participants who saw a negative, positive, or neutral message about desserts. The conclusion of the first study found that instead of these negative messages encouraging dieters to make healthier food choices, the message actually made unhealthy foods more appealing to dieters.
In the second study, 397 participants read either a one-sided positive or negative message regarding sugar and watched a short film while eating cookies. The dieters who read the negative message ate 39% more cookies than the dieters who read the positive message. The non-dieters were not affected by the message about food.
Focusing on snack choices for the third study, participants read a two-sided message containing both positive and negative information regarding food. Of the 324 participants in this study, the dieters who saw the two-sided message chose 47% fewer unhealthy snacks than participants who read a negative message.
The conclusion of these three studies points to the fact that a message, containing both positives and negatives about certain foods, has a better impact on dieters than a negative message alone. Researchers of this study warn that these public service announcements, with negative messages regarding unhealthy foods, are actually backfiring on dieters. A message with more balance is the way to affect our eating habits.
Cornell Food & Brand Lab. (2016, January 26). Messages from the food police: How food-related warnings backfire among dieters. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160126085751.htm