Food and Behaviour Research

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17 March 2019 - Psych Central - New Study Shows How Motivation Affects Diet

Janice Wood

healthy eating

A new study suggests that people with a positive attitude are more likely to eat healthily.

A new study suggests that people with a positive attitude are more likely to eat healthily.

Led by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in England, the study involved 1,125 people in Taiwan, where dietary habits have been changing, leading to increases in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Participants were questioned about their nutrition involvement and knowledge, as well as adjustments to their diets.

Researchers examined the motivational role of a theory called regulatory focus on consumers’ involvement in nutrition. That theory looks at the time and effort people put in to finding out about nutrition and seeking out nutritious food.

The researchers also examined the effect of nutrition involvement on consumers’ knowledge of nutrition and dietary behavior.

Regulatory focus suggests that there are fundamental motivational differences among people, with two aspects - promotion and prevention — guiding behavior, according to the researchers.

Those with a promotion focus are concerned with pursuing positive outcomes, such as engaging in healthy behaviors, while those with a prevention focus seek to prevent negative consequences, for example by avoiding unhealthy behaviors, the researchers explain.

The study’s findings show that having a promotion focus leads to consumer’s involvement in nutrition, which in turn leads to nutrition knowledge and diet adjustment following advice, for example from media, doctors, family members, or friends.

Researchers found that having a prevention focus had no effect on nutrition involvement.

The study also found that the effect of promotion focus on nutritional involvement was greater among high-income consumers.

The findings also suggested that the effect of promotion focus was stronger among men than women, but the researchers say this is to be expected because previous research has shown that women have higher levels of nutritional involvement, irrespective of having a promotion focus.

The findings provide insights about nutrition-related consumer attitudes and behaviors, which is important given the growing rates of obesity and conditions such as diabetes, said lead author Kishore Pillai, Ph.D., a professor of retail and marketing at UEA’s Norwich Business School.

“The higher aspirational levels of promotion-focused consumers will lead to greater involvement with nutrition to enhance their well-being,” said Pillai. “While both promotion and prevention focused individuals will be motivated to maintain good health, the former are more likely to employ approach strategies, such as nutritional involvement.

“Consumer decisions regarding eating behaviors and nutrition can lead to consequences such as illness and obesity that have direct public health policy implications,” Pillai said. “Obesity is preventable and increasing consumer involvement in nutrition can help achieve this.”

According to Pillai, consumers are likely to receive advice on nutrition from a number of sources in their daily lives.

“Public agencies can encourage promotional focus and in turn involvement in nutrition through appropriate communication. But, as the results of this study indicate, the effectiveness of this intervention will vary between high and low income groups and is likely to vary between males and females.”

“Given the problems of obesity and illnesses directly linked to unhealthy eating habits, the direct effect of nutrition involvement on dietary behaviors demonstrated in this study underscores the importance of investing in efforts to promote nutrition involvement from a public health policy perspective,” Pillai added.