Food marketing may not be as effective after consumers lose weight, study finds

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Experts say obesity can make people more susceptible to food marketing campaigns

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia explored the efficacy of food marketing both before and after consumers lost weight

According to their findings, obesity can make consumers more vulnerable to food marketing strategies. However, these campaigns aren’t as effective after people lose weight

“The results clearly suggest a bidirectional influence between people’s weight status, psychology, and responsiveness to the environment -- including marketing,” said researcher Dr. Yann Cornil. “So, it’s a complex relationship.” 

How weight loss influences food marketing

To understand the relationship between weight loss and food marketing, the researchers looked at participants from three distinct groups: those who were obese, those who were obese and had gastric bypass surgery to lose weight, and those who were not obese. The team conducted several different trials to determine how effective food marketing was at influencing the participants’ eating and purchasing choices. 

Participants’ weight played a significant role in how responsive they were to food marketing. Obese participants were more likely to buy into these campaigns; however, if those same participants lost weight, their susceptibility to food marketing decreased over time. 

The researchers say there are several reasons why this happens. They speculate that losing weight can change consumers’ lifestyles and tastes, so they naturally don’t gravitate towards unhealthier options. The team also suggested that significant weight loss might change hormone levels, which can impact what consumers want to buy or eat. 

“People with obesity going through bariatric surgery will become less responsive to marketing over time,” Dr. Cornil said. “And after 12 months, their responsiveness to marketing reaches the level of people with more medically-recommended weight.” 

Positive changes for the future

Based on these findings, the researchers hope that food marketing changes to encourage consumers to make healthier options. It’s important to know that consumers’ behaviors aren’t fixed and can change based on weight loss. 

“That would mean people are endowed with unchangeable psychological characteristics that would always make them more responsive to marketing -- which would make it very difficult to sustain a medically-recommended weight,” Dr. Cornil said. “But one of the positive things is that after significant weight loss, people become less responsive to marketing, such that it is more sustainable to remain at a lower body mass index.” 

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