Does health-related advertising lead to healthier purchases? – healing practice

How do you get people to buy healthy food?

Many hope that healthy food advertising and corresponding product information will have a direct effect on purchasing behavior. However, according to a recent study, health-related information hardly seems to lead to healthier purchasing decisions.

A new study involving experts from the University of Cambridge has looked at how health policy advertising and incentives to buy food affect population levels. The results were published in the English-language journal "Appetite".

Healthier purchases thanks to the right advertising?

Researchers point out that advertising and product information should influence purchasing decisions. So the question is, how effective are health-focused messages in directing consumer behavior towards a healthier lifestyle?

In the current study, 1,200 Dutch participants were examined to clarify this question, who were selected to be representative of age, gender and income in the Netherlands, the team explains.

Participants had to make 18 online purchases

In the study, an online supermarket was imitated. In this, there were healthy and indulgence-related advertisements competing through banner ads. Products were marked as healthy or low calorie and images of low calorie meals were shown.

Or unhealthy food banner ads advertised with statements such as simply delicious or divine delight and images of tempting foods high in fat or sugar (eg, apple pie).

Participants passed through the simulated supermarket 18 times and each time chose a product from six alternatives with the click of a mouse. There were three healthy products and three unhealthy products.

Barely healthier purchasing decisions thanks to healthy advice

According to the researchers, references to healthy products alone did little to help participants make healthier purchasing decisions. On the other hand, indices related to pleasure reduced the selection of healthy products by 3%.

When healthy or pleasure-related cues were used together, no effects were observed, the team said.

Important ad placement

Experts have also found that the placement of banner ads plays an important role. Participants were found to make healthier choices when shopping when the health claim was on the top rather than the bottom.

Weaknesses of previous surveys

The research fills some gaps in the understanding of how health product signals influence food purchasing decisions, some of which are due to the fact that previous studies have tended to rely on small samples and very limited populations, the team explains.

Based on previous evidence, the team actually hypothesized that health goal indices would lead to healthier food choices. However, the results of the current study do not support this hypothesis.

“The findings cast doubt on the effectiveness of health goal indices in promoting healthy food choices,” study author Lucia Reisch said in a press release.

If, all other things being equal, it is easier to activate pleasure-related goals through environmental stimuli, public health campaigns are technically at a disadvantage compared to food advertising and marketing campaigns, the team explains. .

However, experts also note that when both healthy and unhealthy signals are presented at the same time, the healthy signals have a protective effect, neutralizing the unhealthy signals completely.

Further research is now warranted to test whether the observed differences between health and pleasure-related goals are related to the specific experimental design or whether they are general. (as)

Author and source information

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This text corresponds to the specifications of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.


Jan M Bauer, Laura N van der Laan, Gert-Jan deBruijn, Lucia A Reisch: Battle of the Primes – The Effect and Interaction of Health and Hedonic Primes on Food Choice; in: Appetite (published Volume 172, 01/05/2022), AppetiteUniversity of Cambridge: Messaging on healthy foods may not induce healthyer Purchases: study (published 28/06/2022), University of Cambridge

Important note:
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It cannot substitute a visit to the doctor.