Obesity is a growing concern for the world, becoming a major cause of death and chronic illnesses, especially amongst the young population. Supporters of good health identified food advertising as a considerable contributor to the obesity epidemic. They suggested that constant food advertising triggers automatic snacking of any available food, as well as specific food awareness and preferences.
What is priming?
Priming is a non-conscious form of human memory involved with perceptual interpretation of objects. According to social cognitive theories, food advertising has a slight and possibly far-reaching effect on eating behaviors of individuals that may occur unconsciously. This indirect effect also known as priming, shows audiences of food adverts respond to various foods, related or unrelated to the advert content in various ways. To determine how it works, priming methods were to test for these reflex casual effects.
The link between priming and obesity
Priming research confirmed that, external cues (primes) have a major influence on food consumption behaviors. It was observed that exposure to sensory properties of appetizing food, increased desire and consumption even among fully satisfied adults. Considering that food advertisement greatly focuses on the immediate sensory gratification of consumption, it becomes difficult for individuals to develop a rational process of self-restraint. It was then proposed that appetizing food stimuli can elicit hedonic hunger or thoughts, feeling and urges relating to food.
Industries claim that advertising only affects brand preference and not nutrition. Research findings however contradict this by showing that food advertisements promoted snacking regardless of one’s hunger as well as food choices. Most highly advertised foods are unhealthy and when individuals are repeatedly exposed to them, their taste preference strongly inclines towards them, and since these effects are thought to occur beyond one’s conscious awareness, they in a way or another contribute to the obesity problem.