In recent years, the increasing prevalence of obesity amongst industrialized nations has focused more attention on the role of food in society. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 2014), more than one-third (78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese, and as of the latest statistics in 2008, the annual medical costs of obesity are estimated at $147 billion. In turn, marketers and public policymakers have worked to better understand a range of food decision-making issues through a multitude of theoretical and methodological vantage points, and using a variety of data collection methods—from field studies to lab experiments and proprietary data sets.
Each article in this collection from the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing
provides a unique perspective on several strategic food consumption-related issues, including the marketing of health claims, the influence of providing nutrition information on consumers’ decision-making processes, the advertisement of food and beverages to children, the relationship between fast-food restaurants’ proximity and adolescents’ weight, and the proposition of a more holistic approach to understanding eating behaviors. The articles’ insights shed light on how the roles of food and food marketing initiatives impact consumer behavior, and how various nutrition labeling strategies currently are adopted by many food marketers.
For example, in “Eating with a Purpose: Consumer Response to Functional Food Health Claims in Conflicting Versus Complementary Information Environment
,” published in 2009, Rebecca W. Naylor, Courtney M. Droms and Kelly L. Haws rely on laboratory experimentation to demonstrate how consumers are likely to choose functional foods when confronted with conflicting versus complementary health claims. Their results show that consumers with lower health consciousness are less likely to choose functional foods when confronted with conflicting health claims. Provided that many consumers tend not to be highly health conscious, exploiting marketing strategies geared toward enhancing situational health consciousness at the point of purchase can temporarily enhance a consumer’s level of health consciousness. For example, using marketing signage throughout the grocery store to promote eating high-fiber foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables), along with the positive consequences of consuming high-fiber nutrients may help activate higher levels of consumer health consciousness. Such efforts may help attenuate discounting behaviors toward functional food health claims when presented with conflicting information.
Some easily assessable marketing initiatives that consumers look for when they are searching for nutrient information are salient front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labels, which are provided on a variety of consumer packaged foods. In “Healthful Food Decision Making in Response to Traffic Light Color-Coded Nutrition Labeling
,” published in 2014, Joerg Koenigstorfer, Andrea Groeppel-Klein and Friederike Kamm investigate whether color-coded nutrition information helps consumers make more healthful food choices. Their findings indicate that, compared with individuals with higher self-control to resist food temptations, consumers with lower self-control make more healthful food choices when they are provided with nutrition label information featuring a traffic-light-like color coding system, which indicates whether a food provides nutritional benefits and could be consumed regularly (“green light”) or if it should be considered a “hardly ever eat” food (“red light”), as well as choices that might not be nutritionally ideal and yet would be considered a “once-in-a-while” food (“yellow light”).
Similar to marketers’ and health advocates’ concerted efforts to curb escalating rates of adult obesity, efforts to combat rising childhood obesity rates also are garnering attention. Using firm-level data, Rui Huang and Muzhe Yang examine whether the food industry’s self-regulatory program to restrict food marketing to children (i.e., the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative) impacts both advertising exposure to children and household purchases. In their study, “Buy What Is Advertised on Television? Evidence from the Bans on Child-Directed Food Advertising
,” published in 2013, they maintain that although restricting child-directed advertising does not reduce overall food advertising to children, it does help minimize household purchases of unhealthy snacks.
Sonya Grier and Brennan Davis examine obesity rates amongst a different profile of consumers, middle and high school adolescents, in their study, “Are All Proximity Effects Created Equal? Fast Food Near Schools and Body Weight Among Diverse Adolescents
,” published in 2013. To do so, they examine whether a relationship exists between fast-food restaurant proximity and intra-urban adolescent body weight. Building upon conventional wisdom that there is an association between fast-food proximity and body weight outcome, Grier and Davis’s field study results indicate that this relationship differs across demographic profiles of adolescents. Specifically, the association between having fast-food near schools and increased body weight is four times stronger for subpopulations of Hispanic and African-American students in low-income, urban schools compared with other groups.
Finally, in an attempt to better understand the role of food at an individual and societal level, Lauren G. Block, Sonya A. Grier, Terry L. Childers, Brennan Davis, Jane E.J. Ebert, Shiriki Kumanyika, Russell N. Laczniak, Jane E. Machin, Carol M. Motley, Laura Peracchio, Simone Pettigrew, Maura Scott and Mirjam N.G. van Ginkel Bieshaar propose a radical restructuring of the research paradigm from the current “food as health” to the newly minted “food as well-being” (FWB) framework. In their study, “From Nutrients to Nurturance: A Conceptual Introduction to Food Well-Being
,” published in 2011, they endorse the idea of the FWB framework as a research model (encompassing food socialization, food literacy, food availability, food marketing and food policy) as it employs a richer definition of the role of food and entails the bridging of domains outside and within marketing to move the food and health marketing field forward.
The articles in this collection address multiple issues pertaining to food-related consumption. Specifically, each of these articles provides policy implications that help inform consumer health advocates in current social health issue debates as well as public policy decisions. They also identify a host of warranted research intended to improve consumer health and welfare. As such, each of these topical areas related to food decision-making is worthy of further empirical investigation.
Articles Featured in This Collection
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Block, Lauren G., Sonya A. Grier, Terry L. Childers, Brennan Davis, Jane E.J. Ebert, Shiriki Kumanyika, Russell N. Laczniak, Jane E. Machin, Carol M. Motley, Laura Peracchio, Simone Pettigrew, Maura Scott, and Mirjam N.G. van Ginkel Bieshaar (2011), “From Nutrients to Nurturance: A Conceptual Introduction to Food Well-Bein
g,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 30 (Spring), 5–13.
CDC (2014), “Adult Obesity Facts,” (accessed August 18, 2014), [available at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.htm]