The study, published in Psychology & Health, examined whether exposure to food advertising led to more food-related thoughts and whether it motivated participants to eat.
“Exposure to environmental food cues may contribute to (over)eating because such cues trigger food-related cognitions and a corresponding motivation to eat,” the researchers wrote. “The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of exposure to food advertising on the cognitive and motivational processing of food- and eating-related information….Specifically, we investigated whether exposure to television food advertising primes food-related cognitions and triggers a motivation to eat.”
The Australian researchers conducted two experiments, with 160 normal weight undergraduate students and with 124 overweight and obese participants. Following exposure to general (non-food) television advertising or exposure to a mixture of food and non-food advertising, participants were asked to complete word stems to create full words. They were also asked to rate their desire to eat.
The study’s authors found that exposure to food advertising increased the number of food- and eating-related words for both groups, and increased self-reported desire to eat – but only for overweight and obese individuals.
“We conclude that an increased activation of food-related cognitions may provide a mechanism for the link between food advertising and consumption. This has implications for tackling pathological (over)eating,” the researchers wrote.
They suggest that better understanding of the effects of food advertising is important because of its potential role in obesity.
“Overweight and obese people show increased activation in the brain’s reward system in response to food cues,” they wrote. “Compared to individuals of normal weight, they also bias their attention towards food cues, hold more positive attitudes about food and are willing to work harder for food rewards. This heightened cognitive and motivational orientation to food may make overweight and obese individuals particularly vulnerable to food advertising.”
Source: Psychology & Health
“Exposure to television food advertising primes food-related cognitions and triggers motivation to eat”
Authors: Eva Kemps, Marika Tiggemann & Sarah Hollitt