In today’s world, our diets are often filled with fats and sugars. Our old instinct to crave high-calorie foods, which once helped us survive, now leads to health-damaging side effects.
To counter this, food content creators on social media have tried to promote healthy eating and healthy eating content.
But here’s the kicker – this content doesn’t get a lot of engagement. Instead, posts that show unhealthy, high-calorie foods get more likes, shares, and comments. This popularity of junk food online may prompt content creators and algorithms to show more of it, tilting our view of “normal” eating habits towards unhealthy choices. In the long term, this could fuel the obesity epidemic.
So the challenge is clear: how do you make healthy foods as click-worthy as their unhealthy counterparts?
In a recent article published in the european journal of marketing, we wanted to see if we could change people’s natural tendency to avoid healthy foods. How? By changing their way of thinking. Could getting people to think more carefully before seeing posts about food inspire them to engage more with healthy food on social media?
Social media food marketing
Social media has become a billboard for food advertising. Food companies are everywhere online, but they usually focus on high-calorie products. They make these foods fun and shareable, although many of us had better see healthier options.
This disconnect between what food companies promote and what is good for consumers is glaring. Posts containing unhealthy foods receive more love and are remembered, viewed, and shared more than posts containing healthier foods.
This online popularity of junk food can then shape our ideas of what is “normal” to eat and can influence our eating habits, especially in groups easily influenced by peers. So if we can figure out why this is happening, we could use that knowledge to make healthy food shine on social media.
Why we love junk food: an evolving tale
Our brains have been hardwired over millennia to not only crave high-calorie foods, but also to feel good just by seeing such foods — it’s a survival trick from our past.
Today, that means we naturally feel good and excited when we see high-calorie foods. That same excitement just doesn’t occur when exposed to low-calorie alternatives, which we often consider less tasty, less enjoyable, and probably not filling.
What if we could change our minds to avoid the biased decisions we make when we rely on our feelings? The idea of using a more reflective mindset is a strategy that has proven effective on other eating habits.
The potential here is huge: Thinking more thoughtfully and analytically could reduce our tendency to rely more on our feelings to make decisions, which can make healthier, lower-calorie foods more appealing, leading to more likes and sharing on social networks.
In our research, we looked at how people react to social media content about food. We found that people are generally less interested in posts about healthier, lower calorie foods, which has been shown in previous studies.
We used videos from Tasty, a popular food network, for our experiment.
In our experiment, viewers were more likely to engage with a video about how to make a burger than with a salad. But when people take the time to think about the foods they actually eat, they can appreciate the benefits of low-calorie foods, potentially leading them to choose healthier options.
Actions for healthier social media
As previous research has shown, people are naturally drawn to social media posts of unhealthy foods, leaving healthier options in the dust. The more engagement these high-calorie posts get, the more similar content floods our feeds, creating a cycle that can potentially negatively affect our actual eating habits.
But there is hope! As our current work demonstrates, there are many ways to steer the mindset toward healthier choices. Think disclaimers, health star ratings, or even color-coded nudges.
Short mindfulness exercises from programs like Noom or WeightWatchers can also help us pause and think before we eat.
Our research can inspire dietitians, health advocates, policy makers and content creators to use this magical mindset when designing their products, services or social media posts. This could lead to greater engagement with healthier food content on social media, making those messages travel healthier.
Ethan Pancer, Associate Professor of Marketing, St. Mary’s University; Matthew Philp, Assistant Professor, Marketing, Metropolitan University of Torontoand Theo Noseworthy, Professor of Marketing, York University, Canada
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.