Repository logo

Priming healthy eating. You can't prime all the people all of the time.

Published version

Repository DOI



Change log


Forwood, Suzanna E 
Ahern, Amy L 
Hollands, Gareth J 
Ng, Yin-Lam 
Marteau, Theresa M 


OBJECTIVE: In the context of a food purchasing environment filled with advertising and promotions, and an increased desire from policy makers to guide individuals toward choosing healthier foods, this study tests whether priming methods that use healthy food adverts to increase preference for healthier food generalize to a representative population. METHODS: In two studies (Study 1 n = 143; Study 2 n = 764), participants were randomly allocated to a prime condition, where they viewed fruit and vegetable advertisements, or a control condition, with no advertisements. A subsequent forced choice task assessed preference between fruits and other sweet snacks. Additional measures included current hunger and thirst, dietary restraint, age, gender, education and self-reported weight and height. RESULTS: In Study 1, hunger reduced preferences for fruits (OR (95% CI) = 0.38 (0.26-0.56), p <0.0001), an effect countered by the prime (OR (95% CI) = 2.29 (1.33-3.96), p = 0.003). In Study 2, the effect of the prime did not generalize to a representative population. More educated participants, as used in Study 1, chose more fruit when hungry and primed (OR (95% CI) = 1.42 (1.13-1.79), p = 0.003), while less educated participants' fruit choice was unaffected by hunger or the prime. CONCLUSION: This study provides preliminary evidence that the effects of adverts on healthy eating choices depend on key individual traits (education level) and states (hunger), do not generalize to a broader population and have the potential to increase health inequalities arising from food choice.



Advertisements, Food choice, Healthy eating, Priming, Adult, Advertising, Choice Behavior, Cues, Diet, Educational Status, Feeding Behavior, Female, Food Preferences, Health Behavior, Health Promotion, Humans, Hunger, Male, Middle Aged, Motivation, Odds Ratio, Snacks, Social Marketing

Journal Title


Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Elsevier BV
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12015/4)
Medical Research Council (MC_U106179474)
We gratefully acknowledge the participation of all NIHR Cambridge BioResource (CBR) volunteers. We thank the Cambridge BioResource staff for their help with volunteer recruitment, members of the Cambridge BioResource SAB and Management Committee for their support of our study and the National Institute for Health Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre for funding. Access to CBR volunteers and their data and samples is governed by the CBR SAB. Documents describing access arrangements and contact details are available at We are grateful to Chris Holmes and Sarah Walker for advice, comment and discussion on this work from a marketing perspective and to Graham Finlayson for use of the food images. The study was funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Program (Policy Research Unit in Behavior and Health [PR-UN-0409-10109]). The Department of Health had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.