Tuesday, June 11, 2013

You Are What You Eat

After an 8-month hiatus, I'm back, now dedicated to regularly maintaining this site with a general focus on new insights into consumer behavior.  My earlier posts are still available at my original connectingwithconsumers site.

By now, I hope you've read my book, Psychological Foundations of Marketing.  If so, you might think you now know everything there is to know about the psychology of consumers, but I am afraid you would be sadly mistaken.  Only the tip of the iceberg.  What better place to re-start to fathom the depths of consumer behavior than to look at some recent findings linked to gluttony.

If You Watch a Lot of TV, Your Children Are Probably Fat

I've long been intrigued, as have many others, with the effects of heavy TV viewing on our fragile minds and bodies.  And researchers have long pointed out how ill those effects may be.  About 100 years ago when I was pursuing my PhD in Philadelphia, I became engrossed by the ideas of Sol Worth and George Gerbner, two communication theorists whose writings I compared for a project assigned by one of my professors at the time, Richard Chalfen, author of Photogaffes.  Gerbner's enculturation research demonstrated how heavy viewers (i.e., more than 4 hours/day) perceived the dangers and risks of everyday life as closer to the world depicted on TV than in real life: compared with light TV viewers (i.e., 2 or fewer hours/day), they overestimated the amount and likelihood of violent crimes, believed they were more at risk to be a victim of a violent crime, overestimated the number of persons employed in law enforcement occupations, and so on.  More recently, my friend LJ Shrum and his colleagues found similar effects in terms of consumers' views about materialism and worldly possessions, such that heavy TV viewers believed they owned fewer nice things than the typical consumer, and their perceptions of the material world (e.g., goods and products possessed by the average homeowner) were more akin to how these things were depicted on TV than in reality.  In short, the researchers found that heavy consumption of TV leads to materialism and decreased life satisfaction. 

Which brings us to gluttony.  University of Michigan researchers Kristen Harrison and Mericarmen Peralta wanted to take this line of research a step further by asking whether heavy household consumption of commercial TV (as opposed to commercial-free digitally recorded TV, etc. that is less apt to air a lot of food advertising) leads to altered perceptions of what makes for a healthy meal and greater junk food consumption.   The researchers interviewed  US parents and preschoolers to determine how family characteristics (such as child and parent media exposure and child dietary intake) were linked to children's eating behavior and perceptions of what comprised a healthy meal.

To make a long story short, their expectations were confirmed: heavy commercial TV consumption led to more junk food consumption by the parents and their children had distorted views of what constituted a healthy meal.  Imagine how this might work - the parents are vegetating all night long in front of the boob tube, consuming - in addition to bags of potato chips, chocolates, beer, etc. - commercial after commercial for all the crap marketers are trying to get you to wolf down at uncontrollable rates, like potato chips, chocolates, beer, etc.  The next morning, little Billy sits down at the breakfast table, and Mom and Dad encourage him to eat his heaping bowl of overly sugared chocolate cereal by suggesting how if he does so, he will grow up to be 'big and strong' like Batman or whatever inane role model the kid idolizes.  'And don't forget to eat your double cheeseburger at lunch, Billy - it's good for you.'

What's particularly scary about this research is that Harrison and Peralta found these effects in preschoolers.  Prior research had confirmed the existence of a link between child TV viewing and obesity in childhood, but the new study may be the first to shed light on the development of ideas about healthy meals in the preschool years.  According to Harrison:

Even though parents and other caregivers are the primary gatekeepers regarding young children's food intake, children are still learning about food as it relates to health from family, media, and other sources, and may use this knowledge later on to inform their decisions when parents or other adults aren't there to supervise them.The preschool years are especially important, because the adiposity rebound in kids who grow up to be normal weight tends to be around age 5 or 6, whereas for kids to grow up to be obese, it happens closer to 3.  We need to know as much as we can about the factors that encourage obesogenic eating during the preschool years, even if that eating doesn't manifest as obesity until the child is older.

Source: International Communication Association (2013, June 6). Parents with heavy TV viewing more likely to feed children junk food. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/06/130606101724.htm

Further reading:
E. J. Boyland, J. A. Harrold, T. C. Kirkham, C. Corker, J. Cuddy, D. Evans, T. M. Dovey, C. L. Lawton, J. E. Blundell, J. C. G. Halford. Food Commercials Increase Preference for Energy-Dense Foods, Particularly in Children Who Watch More Television. Pediatrics, 2011.

University of California - Los Angeles (2010, February 10). Childhood obesity: It's not the amount of TV, it's the number of junk food commercials. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/02/100209095753.htm 

If You Spend All Day Texting and Gabbing on Your Mobile Phone, It's No Wonder You're a Dummy

It's a mean old world for the little ones - dangers lie at every corner, or more likely, with each new technology.  Afraid your kids will become obese if they watch too much commercial TV, you might encourage them to stick to their portable devices.  But research recently conducted at the Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island found a link between texting, Internet and social networking activities and poorer academic performance.  This research involved female university students who reported their daily use of 11 different forms of media, including TV, social networking, talking on the mobile phone, texting, video game playing etc. Media use in general was associated with lower grade point averages and other negative academic outcomes, whereas more time spent reading newspapers and listening to music were linked to positive academic performance.  No wonder I did so well in school, back when I was reading 4 newspapers a day, constantly listening to music, and the Internet and portable devices hadn't yet been invented.

Source:  The journal Emerging Adulthood.

 Nobody Believes a Fat Doctor

I just can't resist mentioning a couple other recent studies on gluttony and obesity.  Here's one that caught my eye, a Johns Hopkins University survey of nearly 400 adults, asking how credible a physician would be who is either normal weight, overweight, or a blimp.  On a 5-point scale (with 5 being the highest credibility level), trust levels came out as follows:  4.0 for a normal-weight physician, 3.4 for an overweight physician, and 3.3 for an obese physician.  Similarly, likelihood of following the physician's advice declined as the physician's weight increased (3.9, 3.5, and 3.5, respectively).  What I find particularly interesting in these results is the lack of statistical difference between the overweight and obese categories.  In others words, as soon as your doctor noticeably gains weight, you'll probably find him or her to be less believable, blimp or not.

SourceInternational Journal of Obesity

But . . . If You Are Fat, Your Doctor Won't Care About You

Finally, also coming out of the Johns Hopkins research labs, an investigation involving 39 primary-care physicians and 208 of their patients found that physicians were more likely to express empathy, concern, and understanding with normal weight patients than with overweight and obese ones.  Fortunately for the weight-challenged patients, this link did not carry over to the quantity of physicians' medical questions, medical advice, counseling or treatment regimen discussions.  Hey, but who goes to the doctor's to make new friends anyway?

Source:  The journal Obesity.

Don't forget . . . more postings at my previous site, http://www.connectingwithconsumers.net

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