Repository logo

The conceptualisation and operationalisation of 'marketing' in public health research: a review of reviews focused on food marketing using principles from critical interpretive synthesis.

Accepted version

No Thumbnail Available



Change log


Forde, Hannah 
Chavez-Ugalde, Yanaina 
Jones, Rebecca A 
Garrott, Kate 
Kotta, Prasanti Alekhya 


BACKGROUND: Extensive public health research reports the nature, scope and effects of various marketing activities used by food and drinks companies to support the sale of their products. Such literature informs the regulation of food marketing that encourages unhealthy eating behaviours and poor diet-related health outcomes. However, it is not clear whether this literature consistently conceptualises and applies marketing, which could in turn influence the approach and efficacy of policies to regulate food marketing. We aimed to understand the conceptualisation and operationalisation of marketing in public health research of food marketing, eventually focusing on the conceptualisation of integrated marketing. METHODS: We conducted a review of reviews that drew on scoping review methods and applied principles of critical interpretive synthesis. Five databases of peer-reviewed literature and websites of relevant organisations were searched in June - August 2020. Articles were screened against inclusion criteria to identify reviews examining food marketing in a health context. Informative text segments from included articles were coded using NVivo. Codes were grouped into synthetic constructs and a synthesising argument. RESULTS: After screening against inclusion criteria, 60 publications were eligible for inclusion. Informative text segments from 24 publications were coded, after which no new codes were identified. Our synthesising argument was that the understanding of integrated marketing appeared inconsistent across publications, such as by differences in use of underlying conceptual frameworks and in the application of terms such as marketing strategy and tactics. CONCLUSIONS: Using our synthesising argument, we suggest ways to improve the future study of food marketing in public health research, for example by using in-depth case studies to understand the integrated operation and effect of multi-component marketing strategies. Improving conceptual clarity in the study of food marketing in public health research has the potential to inform policy that is more reflective of the true nature of marketing, and thus more effective in combating food marketing effects and protecting public health. PROTOCOL REGISTRATION: The review protocol was made publicly available on Open Science Framework prior to the start of the study (DOI: ).



Critical interpretive synthesis., Diet, Food, Marketing, Public health, Review, Humans, Concept Formation, Public Health, Research Design, Marketing, Commerce

Journal Title

BMC Public Health

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Springer Science and Business Media LLC
MRC (MC_UU_00006/7)
MRC (MC_UU_00006/6)
During the course of this work, HF, RAJ, KG, JA and MW were supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) (Grant MC_UU_00006/7 and MC_UU_00006/6). HF received funding for a PhD studentship from the Economic and Social Research Council and Public Health England and has received further discretionary funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and Murray Edwards College, Cambridge. FG is supported by the NIHR Applied Health Collaboration for North West London. YCU received funding for a PhD studentship from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research (Grant Reference Number PD-SPH-2015-10025) and the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology (CoNaCyT). No other funders had any influence.