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Food marketing works. What next for the public health community?

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Food marketing captures not just what foods are advertised, but also which outlets they are stocked in, how much they cost, and even what is in them. Substantial research, including in this special issue, has demonstrated that food marketing ‘works’ to influence food choices, consumption and purchasing and has explored the impacts of efforts to restrict marketing of less healthy foods. Here I consider some important next steps in this field. Firstly, I note the extensive evidence that food marketing ‘works’. We must focus in future on reducing ‘critical uncertainties’ and generating the additional evidence that is likely to make the most difference to decision making. Claims of absence of exactly the right sort of evidence is an industry tactic to delay policy implementation. Secondly, food marketing is part of a complex system which adapts to events with newly emergent behaviours. Thinking about food marketing in this way should help predict, and hence guide action to avert, unintended consequences of efforts to restrict harmful food marketing. Thirdly, we need to think carefully about implementing interventions we expect to be ineffective, however innovative and ambitious – this uses scarce political capital and may slow additional policy innovation. Finally, restricting marketing of less healthy foods can incentivise manufacturers to reformulate existing products or rebalance their portfolios towards healthier alternatives. But reformulated ultraprocessed foods often remain ultraprocessed. Focusing on whole-food alongside nutrient-based reformulation could overcome this problem. Our community’s next big challenge is to ensure access to affordable, healthier, less processed foods.



Journal Title

The British Journal of Nutrition: an international journal of nutritional science

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Cambridge University Press

Publisher DOI

Publisher URL

MRC (MC_UU_00006/7)
JA is supported by the Medical Research Council [grant number MC_UU_00006/7].