How food and beverage companies are shaping public conversation on obesity

printer friendlyprinter friendly

Food and beverage industry messaging on obesity

As seen in the quotes above, the food and beverage has a lot to say about obesity and diet-related diseases — and public health measures to prevent them. In their new paper for the American Journal of Public Health, "'We're Part of the Solution': Evolution of the Food and Beverage Industry's Framing of Obesity Concerns Between 2000-2012," authors Laura Nixon, Pamela Mejia, Andrew Cheyne, and Lori Dofrman of the Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG), along with Cara Wilking and Richard Daynard of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, analyzed news statements made by food and beverage industry spokespeople to find out how the industry is shaping public conversation on nutrition-related diseases.

The team studied statements from trade associations, individual companies, and food-industry funded non-profit groups to see what messages appeared, who said what, and how food industry messaging tactics have shifted over time.

In this Q&A, lead author Laura Nixon of BMSG offers insights on some of the paper's key findings and discusses the team's approach to studying the news from a public health angle.

Why study the news from a public health perspective? What can public health advocates learn from monitoring the media?

The news media play a crucial role in setting the agenda for public policy debates, including the debate about how to prevent nutrition-related health problems like obesity and diabetes. Examining how the food industry is talking about the issue in the news gives us a window into how they are attempting to shape public perception of the issue.

In this paper, you analyzed statements from food and beverage industry stakeholders on obesity and diet-related disease. What were some of the main findings? Did anything surprise you?

We were surprised to find such an emphasis on the idea that the food industry was already taking care of the problem. We saw lots of statements like "the beverage industry is doing it's part to help," or "[we're] engaged in innovative programs that encourage a healthy lifestyle." In light of our previous research on tobacco industry rhetoric in the news, we expected to see more arguments about consumers' personal responsibility to not eat unhealthy food, or the idea that people should know that junk food is unhealthy.

How did messages vary across stakeholders?

We found that spokespeople for individual food and beverage companies almost never directly criticized proposed public health policies. Instead, they made statements like ones above and pointed to their voluntary self-regulatory programs, with the implication that the food industry was addressing the problem, and there was no need for government action. On the other hand, trade associations and nonprofits funded by the food industry were much more open in their criticism of proposed government policies. This may be a strategy to protect companies' reputations and brands, so that individual companies are not tied in the public's mind to opposition to public health measures.

What steps can advocates take to help denormalize industry tactics and hold stakeholders accountable for their role in health?

One possible strategy is to highlight specific actions by individual companies that are harmful, such as irresponsible marketing campaigns, or disingenuous corporate social responsibility initiatives. Pointing out specific companies keeps them from being able to shield their reputations behind neutral industry associations. In addition, it's important for advocates to be familiar with the research that's been done on the food industry's self-regulatory programs, so that they can talk about the limitations of that approach. Advocates can also encourage journalists to investigate food industry spokespeople's claims about their voluntary programs, rather than taking them at face value.

How can this study inform future research?

I think it would be fascinating to see how the public debate about nutrition-related diseases changes as the policy landscape shifts over time, particularly with the success of sugary drink taxes like the one here in Berkeley, Calif. In addition, food and beverage companies are certainly not the only industry that has been called to respond to public concerns about the health consequences of their products. This research could provide a jumping off point to examine how other types of industries have used the media to respond to public health issues, and, unfortunately, to oppose public health initiatives.

Read the study at

This blog is cross-posted at AJPH Talks.





cannes lions festival (1) collaboration (1) gun control (2) breastfeeding (3) Food Marketing Workgroup (1) Richmond (5) Happy Meals (1) Oglala Sioux (3) campaign finance (1) food swamps (1) SB 1000 (1) Donald Trump (2) Nickelodeon (1) food (1) diabetes (1) cosmetics (1) Gardasil (1) suicide nets (1) community health (1) news (2) summer camps (1) food access (1) default frame (1) SB 402 (1) built environment (2) government intrusion (1) authentic voices (1) race (1) autism (1) cancer research (1) mental health (2) Black Lives Matter (1) prison phone calls (1) Marion Nestle (1) soda taxes (2) Merck (1) community organizing (1) cervical cancer (1) digital marketing (3) water (1) sanitation (1) Let's Move (1) education (1) naacp (1) Telluride (1) violence (2) sandusky (2) community violence (1) food justice (1) apha (3) sexual violence (2) snap (1) childhood trauma (3) obesity (10) Proposition 47 (1) Bloomberg (3) Citizens United (1) communication (2) front groups (1) alcohol (5) values (1) inequities (1) environmental health (1) Sam Kass (1) FCC (1) choice (1) cigarette advertising (1) ssb (1) advocacy (3) nanny state (2) child sexual abuse (5) marketing (1) framing (14) sugar-sweetened beverages (2) social math (1) Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (1) Big Soda (2) regulation (2) target marketing (9) healthy eating (1) sexism (2) San Francisco (3) filibuster (1) social media (2) physical activity (1) emergency contraception (1) tobacco industry (2) Jerry Sandusky (3) media bites (1) reproductive justice (1) junk food (2) abortion (1) Twitter for advocacy (1) measure N (2) Measure O (1) chronic disease (2) childhood obesity (1) community safety (1) language (6) McDonald's (1) prevention (1) indoor smoking ban (1) children's health (3) weight of the nation (1) california (1) water security (1) suicide prevention (2) Joe Paterno (1) health care (1) food industry (4) ACEs (2) structural racism (1) American Beverage Association (1) sexual assault (1) public health data (1) SB-5 (1) auto safety (1) PepsiCo (1) strategic communication (1) health equity (10) El Monte (3) women's health (2) social change (1) personal responsibility rhetoric (1) childhood lead poisoning (1) tobacco tax (1) Rachel Grana (1) corporate social responsibility (1) Coca-Cola (3) vaccines (1) food deserts (1) Twitter (1) beauty products (1) political correctness (1) Amanda Fallin (1) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (2) media analysis (6) food marketing (5) paper tigers (1) Golden Gate Bridge (2) prison system (1) democracy (1) Tea Party (1) gun violence (1) childhood adversity (1) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (1) Catholic church (1) Oakland Unified School District (1) news strategy (1) adverse childhood experiences (3) cancer prevention (1) news analysis (3) nonprofit communications (1) product safety (1) junk food marketing (4) food and beverage marketing (3) safety (1) Connecticut shooting (1) soda (12) social justice (2) elephant triggers (1) stigma (1) soda warning labels (1) junk food marketing to kids (2) youth (1) public health policy (2) obesity prevention (1) liana winett (1) Newtown (1) paula deen (1) beverage industry (2) institutional accountability (1) Aurora (1) soda tax (11) soda industry (4) genital warts (1) world water day (1) Chile (1) SSBs (1) Sandy Hook (2) cap the tap (1) seat belt laws (1) Bill Cosby (1) privilege (1) gatorade bolt game (1) equity (3) violence prevention (8) news coverage (1) messaging (3) personal responsibility (3) sugary drinks (10) media (7) Berkeley (2) Wendy Davis (1) Big Food (2) sexual health (1) Colorado (1) online marketing (1) childhood obestiy conference (1) racism (1) tobacco control (2) george lakoff (1) HPV vaccine (1) tobacco (5) gender (1) Michelle Obama (1) media advocacy (23) Johnson & Johnson (1) diabetes prevention (1) Proposition 29 (1) sports drinks (1) new year's resolutions (1) food environment (1) public health (71) news monitoring (1) Big Tobacco (3) election 2016 (1) suicide barrier (2) journalism (1) Penn State (3) communication strategy (1) Whiteclay (4) Dora the Explorer (1) white house (1) Pine Ridge reservation (1) industry appeals to choice (1) community (1) Texas (1)
  • Follow Us On Facebook
  • Follow Us On Twitter
  • Join Us On Youtube
  • BMSG RSS Feed

get e-alerts in your inbox: