Does food advertising make us eat more?


On a daily basis we are surrounded with images of appetizing and often unhealthy food on TV adverts, billboards, in magazines and everywhere we go. With obesity on the rise, this article in Psychology & Health raises questions about constant exposure to food cues and its effect on eating habits. Does it encourage over-indulgence? Are overweight people more vulnerable? The research examines our cognitive processes, our motivators to eat, and the practical implications for the management of dysfunctional eating behaviours.

Two experiments were conducted, the first on a female group with average BMI. The group was split, the first half watched a mixture of food and non-food related advertising and a control group watched only non-food related ads. The groups were then asked to complete a list of unfinished words, all of which had the potential to be food related, and to record their level of desire to eat. The second experiment followed the same methodology, but participants had high BMI. 

In both experiments, those shown food ads produced more food related words, suggesting that the advertising does activate increased food-related cognitions.

Interestingly, experiment 2 showed that overweight viewers of food ads reported stronger desire to eat than those in their control group. Experiment 1 participants reported low desire to eat across the board. The overweight group appeared more prone to eat as a direct result of TV ads.  

The authors urge for more research using this information to help dysfunctional eaters by training them to avoid food in response to food cues.

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