Our society wants fast, cheap, ready-to-eat, tasty, safe meals. Yet, we have no time to eat, are always on the run and no longer have family meals. It is easy to put the blame on somebody else but this time there might be some truth to it.
The food industry, this means food and beverage producers, restaurants and food service companies, have been indirectly or directly associated with obesity, through their influence on what we will call the 4 Ps: Price, Promotion, Product and Place.
This is how.
Price is one of the most important factors affecting consumption and obesity and that partially explains why obesity is most prevalent among lower income families.
The huge decline in prices of food for branded, processed, ready-to-eat items that are rich in sugar, fat and salt is in part responsible for the increased energy intake.
Another way the food industry increased consumption is through temporary sales with reduction in prices. You probably thought that temporary sales will just make you shift brands. But studies have shown that temporary sales lead to a significant increase in consumption, for both junk and healthy foods.
So, you might tell me, “Ok, we buy it at a reduced price but that doesn’t affect how fast we consume it”. Unfortunately, that is not the case, because, since you bought it at a reduced price, you will consume it faster. Not to mention that its availability at home intensifies the salience of the food, resulting in increased consumption.
Price affects what we chose to buy, how much we get of it and how fast we consume it.
The food industry has tricks to effectively promote any brand. Apparently, just labeling the same food a “Salad” v/s “Pasta special” increases our perception of how tasty and healthy the food is, and it also affects its actual consumption. So you would tend to buy a salad that has probably one vegetable in it, thinking you ate a healthy meal.
Another example of how labeling and promotion affect our perception is the fact that we perceive food to be healthier if the label on the product says “75% fat free” instead of “25% fat”. I am sure this happens to all of us!
Have you noticed that Junk food Restaurants recently started adding salads and fruits to their meals? You might think that this is just a positive effort for them to make the meals healthier and promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Well, maybe for some of them it is, but for the rest the reason is that consumers often have problems estimating the calorie content of their meals. According to a recent study, adding a healthy food to an unhealthy one results in calorie estimations that are lower than for the unhealthy food alone. So if you eat a burger with a salad you feel like you are eating fewer calories than if you were eating that same burger alone. Surprising, isn’t it?
Another issue is the product itself. Larger packages and bigger serving sizes significantly increase consumption. This is due to the fact that we, as consumers, take the packaging size as a cue for an appropriate serving size. How often do you buy a bag of chips or a chocolate bar and just eat half of it? Almost never! We really underestimate the effect that the packaging and the serving size have on our perception of the product.
When you chose a restaurant, do you consider that the lighting or even the music have any effect on your food consumption? Restaurant owners are now aware that dimmed or soft lighting, as well as slow music influence consumption because it increases comfort, and the time spent at the dinner table, resulting in a longer eating duration.
Now let’s say you are choosing a bottle of wine in a liquor store. Did you know that you are more likely to buy German wine if German music is playing in the background and French wine if French music played in the back?
Yes, the food industry, with its creative and innovative marketing techniques, influence our food purchases, preferences and consumption, without us being aware of it most of the time. By affecting the 4 Ps, they affect what we eat, when we eat, where we eat and how much we eat.
By such, I believe it’s safe to say that obesity is not a moral weakness, but it is a normal response to a changing environment.
Chandon P, Wansink B (2012). Does food marketing need to make us fat? A review and solutions. Nutrition Reviews, 70(10), 571-593.