As Americans’ serving portions, appetites, and waist lines grow ever larger, marketing’s role in spurring the obesity problem is increasingly questioned because marketing activities have a direct impact on eating habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of US adults are considered obese, and research shows that overexposure to advertisements featuring high-calorie foods encourages overeating and obesity. For many, the problem starts early: the Federal Communications Commission states that the average American child views more than 40,000 TV commercials in one year, and studies have shown that children who watch TV more than four hours a day are more likely to be overweight than those who watch less TV.
But Professor Donald Lehmann and other experts believe that if marketing has contributed to the obesity problem, it can be used to help consumers make healthier choices, too. Many studies have assessed the impact of different communication approaches — for example, inciting fear of potential health consequences, such as stroke and certain types of cancer, or focusing on positive benefits, like having more energy — on participants’ attitudes and intentions toward food and healthy behaviors.
Working with Professor Punam Keller of Dartmouth, Lehmann used meta-analysis to examine 85 consumer research studies that measured the effectiveness of health communications. The researchers looked for patterns across the studies, focusing specifically on the characteristics that were measured, like health goals, framing, how trusted a source is, and whether messages were tailored or standardized to determine which marketing strategies are most effective in reaching consumers.