Making sense of food marketing

Lisa Fisher, Health Promotion Specialist

Although we aim to make healthy choices when it comes to food, sometimes we can be sidetracked by advertising campaigns. Food marketing can impact our choices by convincing us to purchase something, whether at the grocery store or at a food establishment that may not be the healthiest option. In today’s society, we are constantly being bombarded by marketing, sometimes without even being aware of it. It’s easy to spot food marketing in commercials, social media posts, branding and contests or sales promotions. We need to be cognizant, however, that companies are also trying to sway our minds through product placement (e.g. on television, in movies and magazines, in music lyrics and videos and on social media posts), celebrity endorsements and sponsorship of events.

We are now becoming subject to targeted marketing. This is known as behavioural advertising. Companies use your personal data (e.g. age and gender, purchasing history and/or web browser history) to assume your interests and provide you with targeted ads. Overall, food marketing is designed to encourage you to buy certain foods and drinks either for the pure enjoyment of said food or drink, or because they provide you with an incentive (e.g. loyalty points, coupons, etc.). This type of marketing also links certain foods or brands to a particular lifestyle and creates food trends, leading to brand loyalty.

It’s important that we become savvier in recognizing when we’re being targeted. Instead of basing our food and drink choices on clever marketing campaigns, we should be reading the labels and recognizing it to be either a healthy or an unhealthy choice. We sometimes rely on nutrition claims on food packages to make choices when at the grocery store. Nutrition content claims are those that help you choose foods that contain a nutrient you either want more or less of. For example, it may say “a good source of iron” or “low fat.” Health claims help you choose foods that may benefit your overall health, such as reduction in risk for chronic diseases. Although these claims can be helpful, we need to become familiar with how to read a nutrition facts table to get the full picture.

Health Canada has provided tips on how to be aware of food marketing when making choices. When going to the grocery store, make a list and stick to it. Avoid going to the grocery store when you’re hungry, as you may be more prone to make impulse buys. When making a purchase, question why you are choosing that product (e.g. is it healthy? Is it “cool”? Is it nutritious?). If you know that you are susceptible to product marketing, find ways to lessen your exposure. This could mean limiting screen time, using ad-free platforms or downloading software that limits advertising. Learn about how you can protect your privacy on the internet and social media, and how your online browsing history is used. Keep in mind that even if you don’t believe yourself to be swayed by food marketing, there may be others around you who are. Those who are specifically vulnerable to the effects of marketing are children and youth. It’s encouraged to have open conversations about marketing effects and the strategies you and others can use to limit these effects.

If you are interested in learning more about nutrition, contact the Health Promotion team at local 6958 or 4WGHealthPromotion@forces.gc.ca. We can provide briefings to Units upon request. If you would like to receive in-depth information about how to make healthy food choices, we are offering a Top Fuel for Top Performance Course on September 11 and 12, 2019. Send your registration request to the Health Promotion team. If you are looking to achieve a healthy body weight and need a little extra push through nutritional education, physical activity and group support, we encourage you to check out the Blast Off the Pounds Information Session on September 16 at 12:10 – 12:50 pm in Activity Rm 1, 2nd Floor Col J.J. Parr Sports Centre.

References

• Health Canada. (2019). Marketing can influence your food choices. Retrieved from https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/marketing-can-influence-your-food-choices/
• Health Canada. (2012). Nutrition claims. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/nutrition-claims.html

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