American culture is dominated by quick fixes — or “have an app for that” mentality. Similarly, we have a belief that technology can cure all ills, even obesity.
Experts note that the sale and use of weight loss pills and remedies has reached an all-time high, a finding that correlates to escalating rates of obesity.
A new study, “The Perils of Marketing Weight Management Remedies and the Role of Health Literacy,” finds that false beliefs about these weight loss drugs are causing Americans to gain more weight.
The study is forthcoming in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.
Researchers discovered that some weight loss strategies may have a paradoxical effect by actually encouraging unhealthy behaviors.
“Weight management remedies that promise to reduce the risks of being overweight may undermine consumer motivation to engage in health-supportive behaviors,” write authors Lisa E. Bolton (Pennsylvania State University), Amit Bhattacharjee (Dartmouth College), and Americus Reed, II (University of Pennsylvania).
“Put simply, why put effort into living a healthy lifestyle when a weight management remedy can take care of the problem?”
In the study participants were each given free access to a bowl of chocolate cookies, with one group advised ahead of time about a new, powerful, fat-fighting pill.
The group that believed in the existence of the new pill ate significantly more cookies per person — some participants consuming as many as 30. An additional test showed that the more fattening the cookie, the more the participants would overeat, as long as they expected to be able to take the weight loss pill.
Researchers believe the study shows that the very people who need to reduce weight are the most likely to use weight loss pills. And, the pills may cause the individual to dangerously increase their consumption of unhealthy foods.
The good news was that encouraging consumers to look beyond the marketing and find real information about a drug was very effective in reducing their false expectations and unhealthy behavior.
This same strategy could prove effective in other areas of consumer life, bringing relief, for example, to those who are trying to improve their finances but are falling prey to “quick fix” financial remedies.
“Given the ubiquity of remedies in today’s marketplace, more research is needed to understand the impact of remedy marketing on consumers.
There is ample room for policy makers and responsible marketers to improve remedy marketing practices to minimize potentially harmful consequences for consumers,” the authors conclude.