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Open Access Research

Reducing high calorie snack food in young adults: a role for social norms and health based messages

Eric Robinson12*, Ellis Harris2, Jason Thomas2, Paul Aveyard23 and Suzanne Higgs2

Author Affiliations

1 University of Liverpool, Psychological Sciences, Liverpool, UK

2 University of Birmingham, School of Psychology, Birmingham, UK

3 University of Oxford, Primary Care Health Sciences, Oxford, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:73  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-73

Published: 5 June 2013

Abstract

Background

Consumption of high calorie junk foods has increased recently, especially among young adults and higher intake may cause weight gain. There is a need to develop public health approaches to motivate people to reduce their intake of junk food.

Objective

To assess the effect of health and social norm messages on high calorie snack food intake (a type of junk food) as a function of usual intake of junk food.

Design

In a between-subjects design, 129 young adults (45 men and 84 women, mean age = 22.4 years, SD = 4.5) were assigned to one of three conditions: 1) a social norm condition, in which participants saw a message about the junk food eating habits of others; 2) a health condition, in which participants saw a message outlining the health benefits of reducing junk food consumption and; 3) a control condition, in which participants saw a non-food related message. After exposure to the poster messages, participants consumed a snack and the choice and amount of snack food consumed was examined covertly. We also examined whether usual intake of junk food moderated the effect of message type on high calorie snack food intake.

Results

The amount of high calorie snack food consumed was significantly lower in both the health and the social norm message condition compared with the control message condition (36% and 28%, both p < 0.05). There was no significant difference in snack food or energy intake between the health and social norm message conditions. There was no evidence that the effect of the messages depended upon usual consumption of junk food.

Conclusions

Messages about the health effects of junk food and social normative messages about intake of junk food can motivate people to reduce their consumption of high calorie snack food.

Keywords:
Social norms; Health messages; Junk food