Obesity and response to food marketing

Research Published March 13 2021
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Researchers from the Paris Brain Institute, INSEAD, the Nutrition Department of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital (AP-HP/Sorbonne Université), EPHE and the University of British Columbia, provide new evidence for a reciprocal relationship between obesity and susceptibility to food marketing and that this relationship is not a stable individual predisposition. The results are published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.


Is there a relationship between how one responds to food marketing and obesity? While the former is often accused of contributing to the increase in the prevalence of obesity in the population, no relationship between the two at the individual level has yet been established since marketing studies rarely investigate respondents with obesity. If there is such a relationship, does bariatric surgery, one of the most successful current weight loss interventions for people with severe obesity, influence this response to food marketing?


To explore these questions, researchers from the Paris Brain Institute, INSEAD, the Nutrition Department of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, EPHE and University of British Columbia, studied the responses of 3 groups of individuals to the classic food marketing tactics of presenting food as healthier than it really is. The first group consisted of individuals who were obese before, 3 months and 12 months after bariatric surgery. The second was a control group of non-obese individuals. The third was a control group of individuals who were obese but had not taken any steps to lose weight.


Their results show that patients with obesity responded more strongly to food marketing tactics prior to bariatric surgery, compared to lean individuals. Interestingly, however, these differences attenuated 12 months after the weight loss surgery.


This first result is very important because it shows that the response to food marketing is not necessarily an individual disposition such as a lack of self-control or a high sensitivity to reward in subjects with obesity per se as previously thought.

explains Hilke Plassmann, INSEAD’s Octapharma Chaired Professor of Decision Neuroscience and researcher at the Paris Brain Institute.


A new possible of this work could be the existence of a reinforcement loop between the metabolic state of obesity and responsiveness to food marketing. People with obesity are more responsive to food marketing, which in turn decreases once this metabolic state is changed towards a more metabolic healthy state (i.e., after weight loss going hand in hand with a normalization of various metabolic parameters).


Why bariatric surgery is associated with a decreased response to food marketing remains an interesting question for future research. From a neuroscientific point of view, a related study co-authored by Hilke Plassmann and Liane Schmidt at the Paris Brain Institute amongst others, have shown that changes in brain connectivity at rest in reward systems predicts weight loss and correlates with changes post-surgery in the satiety hormone leptin. These findings hint at the idea that bariatric surgery has a much more complex beneficial impact for patients beyond the obvious weight loss.



Obesity and Responsiveness to Food Marketing Before and After Bariatric Surgery. Yann Cornil,  Hilke Plassmann,  Judith Aron‐Wisnewsky,  Christine Poitou‐Bernert,  Karine Clément, Michèle Chabert,  Pierre Chandon. Journal of Consumer Psychology. Feb 2021. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcpy.1221