New study shows how motivation affects nutrition, diet

Individuals with a positive mindset are more likely to eat healthfully, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, which was published in the journal Appetite.

The study examined the motivational role of a theory called regulatory focus on consumers' involvement in nutrition, or the time and effort they put in to finding out about nutrition and seeking out nutritious food. It also examined the effect of nutrition involvement on consumers' knowledge of nutrition and dietary behavior, according to the study abstract.

The study involved 1,125 consumers in Taiwan, where dietary habits have been changing and there have been increases in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Participants were questioned about their nutrition involvement, knowledge, and diet adjustment, researchers said.

Regulatory focus suggests that there are fundamental motivational differences among people, with two aspects guiding behavior, promotion and prevention. Individuals with a promotion focus are concerned with pursuing positive outcomes, engaging in healthy behaviors, while those with a prevention focus will seek to prevent negative consequences, avoiding unhealthy behaviors.

The 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 from media, doctors, family members, or friends, the researchers said. Having a prevention focus had no effect on nutrition involvement, they found.

The researchers also found that the effect of promotion focus on nutritional involvement was greater among high income consumers. The evidence suggested that the effect of promotion focus was stronger among men than women, but the authors 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.

Kishore Pillai, PhD, lead author and professor of retail and marketing, said the findings provided insights about nutrition-related consumer attitudes and behaviors and were important given the growing rates of obesity and diabetes.

"The higher aspirational levels of promotion focused consumers will lead to greater involvement with nutrition to enhance their wellbeing," 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, like illness and obesity, that have direct public health policy implications, Pillai said. Obesity is preventable, they said, and increasing consumer involvement in nutrition can help achieve this.

"Consumers are likely to receive advice regarding nutrition from multiple sources in their day-to-day lives,” said Pillai. “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.”