Does Exposure to Food Advertisements Influence Dietary Intake?
The diet-sensory-perceptual relationship (DSPR) is a central component of the diet-mental health relationship (DMHR) — and one of the six major elements defining the field of nutritional psychology (NP). The DSPR examines the interconnected relationship between our sensory-perceptual experience and how it connects with our dietary choices and intake behaviors.
Food advertising (viewing food advertisements on television or the internet) influences our dietary intake via the DSPR. While we discuss this at length in the Diet Sensory-Perceptual Module within NP 110, let’s review a study exploring the relationship between advertisements and dietary intake by Zimmerman and Shimoga (2014).
In this study, the authors assessed the impact of TV advertisements on participants’ food choices. Participants were exposed to: 1) food advertising + a cognitively demanding task; 2) food advertising + a non–cognitively demanding task; 3) non-food related advertisement while performing a cognitively demanding task; or 4) non-food advertising task before performing a non-cognitively demanding task. The outcomes measured were the number and calorie contents of the unhealthy snacks selected by the participants.
The data revealed that those participants exposed to food advertising chose 28% more unhealthy snacks than those who encountered the non-food advertising (leading to a 65 kcal increase in dietary intake).
While the different advertisements did not significantly affect the individuals assigned to the less cognitively demanding task, there was a large and significant influence of advertising in the participants completing the cognitively demanding task. Those in the cognitively demanding task exposed to food-related advertisements ate 43% more unhealthy snacks, taking in 94 more total calories, compared to the participants who saw non-food advertisements.
This study demonstrated that televised food advertising strongly influences people’s food choices, particularly when these individuals are challenged cognitively. Other findings demonstrate that advertisements (through both the internet and television) influence dietary intake choices in both the adult and child/adolescent population.
While findings like these are instrumental for increasing our understanding of the intimate relationship between dietary intake and psychological health, it is necessary to build a conceptual framework within which we can house these findings. Nutritional Psychology is the field of science dedicated to building this structure.
You can learn more about the DSPR, as well as the other five key elements informing the DMHR, in NP 110: Introduction to Nutritional Psychology Methods.
Zimmerman, F., & Shimoga, S.V. (2014). The effects of food advertising and cognitive load on food choices. BMC Public Health, 14, 342-342. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-14-342