Food advertising does much more than influence our brand preferences; it also ‘primes’ automatic eating behaviours, contributing to overall and longer-term weight gain.
This is the conclusion of a recent study into whether food advertising (of both the healthy and non-healthy kind) can trigger unconscious snacking by leading our thoughts toward hunger and food.
Children consumed 45% more when exposed to food advertising. Adults consumed more of both healthy and unhealthy snack foods following exposure to snack food advertising compared to the other conditions. In both experiments, food advertising increased consumption of products not in the presented advertisements, and these effects were not related to reported hunger or other conscious influences.
Ryan Sager considers the research rationally and wonders what this means to the future of food advertising (political impotence):
I’m sure the public-health community probably sees this as a nice rationale for banning food ads of any kind. But I think it points to a more basic truth that underlies why trying to control things like this is useless: We’re constantly influenced by subconscious effects like this. […] There are a million things that can prime you to mindless eating. The individual just has to be aware of this and maybe not have snacks at hand at all times.
Whatever one’s individual strategy, trying to control such influences at the societal level is most likely pointless.