Marketing Professor Analyzes Media and Obesity Trends

Trend graph showing obesity rates and food mentions in media

Cal Poly marketing Professor Brennan Davis and coauthor Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, have introduced new research in the journal BMC Public Health that analyzes 50 years obesity data and media mentions of healthy and unhealthy foods.

The study, titled “50 Years of Fat,” analyzed all of the different foods mentioned in stories in the New York Times and London Times between 1960 and 2010 and statistically correlated them with each country’s annual body mass index, or BMI, a measure of obesity. While the number of mentions of sweet snacks were related to higher obesity levels three years later, the number of salty snack mentions were unrelated. The number of vegetable and fruit mentions were related to lower levels of obesity three years later.

“The more sweet snacks are mentioned and the fewer fruits and vegetables that are mentioned in your newspaper, the fatter your country’s population is going to be in 3 years, according to trends we found from the past 50 years,” said lead author Davis, who teaches marketing analytics in the Orfalea College of Business. “But the less often they’re mentioned and the more vegetables are mentioned, the skinnier the public will be.”

“This is consistent with earlier research showing that positive messages— ‘Eat more vegetables and you’ll lose weight,’—resonate better with the general public than negative messages, such as ‘eat fewer cookies,’” adds Wansink.

According to a press release from Cornell Food and Brand Lab, these findings provide public health officials and epidemiologists with new tools to quickly assess the effectiveness of current obesity interventions. For more details, visit Cornell’s website. To read the full article, visit BMC Public Health.