Health Communication , , ,

Fearful of Food?

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

I started following the Conscienhealth blog years ago. The organization aims to “advance sound approaches to health and obesity…(and) advocate evidence-based prevention and treatment”. Part of their approach is to provide a daily reflection about how a hot topic might influence our view of obesity or health policy.

A recent post got me thinking about whether fear-based messages are an effective or appropriate way to speak to consumers about food and nutrition. A meta-analysis published last year pooled 127 articles to look at the effect of fear appeals on attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. [Notes: Meta-analysis is a technique that aims to provide a conclusion based on statistical evidence about a large number of studies. Fear appeals are messages designed to persuade people to take action by sparking fear.]

Interestingly enough, fear appeals were found to have generally positive effects but less so for repeated behaviors. We eat multiple times each day, definitely a repetitive behavior, so perhaps fear-based messages are not the best way to communicate food-related lifestyle messages.

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So how should talk about food? Headlines often pose negative or sensational statements to entice us to read. An example of this: Why Sitting is Killing You. But evidence suggests it might be more useful to share gain-framed messages. That is, focus on action people can take and what the positive outcome would be.An example of this: Review suggests eating oats can lower cholesterol as measured by a variety of markers.

Two decades ago, a study reported that Americans perceived food to be mostly associated with health and least associated with ple
asure. Americans reported more action to change diet to support health, yet they were also less likely to consider themselves healthy eaters. What would it look like if we talked in a more positive, less fearful or restrictive manner about food?

 

Resources:

Rozin P, Fischler C, Imada S, Sarubin A, Wrzesniewski A. Attitudes to food and the role of food in life in the U.S.A., Japan, Flemish Belgium and France: possible implications for the diet-health debate. Appetite, 1999 Oct; 33(2): 163-180.

Tannenbaum MB, Hepler J, Zimmerman RS, Saul L, Jacobs S, Wilson K, Albarracin D. Appealing to fear: a meta-analysis of fear appeal effectiveness and theories. Psychol Bull, 2015 Nov; 141(6): 1178-204.

Wansink B, Pope L. When do gain-framed health messages work better than fear appeals? Nutr Rev, 2015 Jan; 73(1): 4-11.

  • ariagray

    You pose a really interesting question. I feel like food has become such a "hot topic" today, when it wasn't even a few years ago. I also agree that I often see many headlines saying things like bacon will cause cancer, and stop eating this food, but the articles never offer constructive suggestions for change or alternatives. Research is always changing what foods are "healthy" and what foods are "dangerous." My mom is still in the mindset of the low fat craze. Food is also so tied to our culture and upbringing, and is difficult to change because of that.

  • shaunala

    I think we could all use more positivity in life, especially regarding food. It is exhausting trying to keep up with what foods are good or bad for you. I think I would like to see more gain-framed messaging in nutrition health communication. I think they are effective too. I still remember that Cheerios may help lower your cholesterol. It may or may not, but it was an effective message, at least for me.