Reducing high calorie snack food in young adults:a role for social norms and health based messages


BACKGROUND: Consumption of high calorie junk foods has increased recently, especially among young adults and higher intake may cause weight gain. There is a need to develop public health approaches to motivate people to reduce their intake of junk food. OBJECTIVE: To assess the effect of health and social norm messages on high calorie snack food intake (a type of junk food) as a function of usual intake of junk food. DESIGN: In a between-subjects design, 129 young adults (45 men and 84 women, mean age = 22.4 years, SD = 4.5) were assigned to one of three conditions: 1) a social norm condition, in which participants saw a message about the junk food eating habits of others; 2) a health condition, in which participants saw a message outlining the health benefits of reducing junk food consumption and; 3) a control condition, in which participants saw a non-food related message. After exposure to the poster messages, participants consumed a snack and the choice and amount of snack food consumed was examined covertly. We also examined whether usual intake of junk food moderated the effect of message type on high calorie snack food intake. RESULTS: The amount of high calorie snack food consumed was significantly lower in both the health and the social norm message condition compared with the control message condition (36% and 28%, both p < 0.05). There was no significant difference in snack food or energy intake between the health and social norm message conditions. There was no evidence that the effect of the messages depended upon usual consumption of junk food. CONCLUSIONS: Messages about the health effects of junk food and social normative messages about intake of junk food can motivate people to reduce their consumption of high calorie snack food.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Health & Life Sciences
Additional Information: © 2013 Robinson et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Uncontrolled Keywords: health messages,junk food,energy intake,feeding behavior,fruit,health behavior,linear models,obesity,public health,snacks,social norms,vegetables,weight gain
Publication ISSN: 1479-5868
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2024 08:09
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2017 08:30
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2013-06-05
Accepted Date: 2013-05-22
Submitted Date: 2012-12-14
Authors: Robinson, Eric
Harris, Ellis
Thomas, Jason (ORCID Profile 0000-0001-7013-8994)
Aveyard, Paul
Higgs, Suzanne



Version: Published Version

License: Creative Commons Attribution

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