Journal of Consumer Policy

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 211–229 | Cite as

Eating Their Feelings: Examining Emotional Eating in At-Risk Groups in the United States

  • Elyria KempEmail author
  • My BuiEmail author
  • Sonya Grier
Original Paper


Emotional eating affects many individuals and can lead to food overconsumption. The present research provides a theoretical foundation for examining the influence of food advertising, social norms, and related mediating influences on emotional eating. Insight offered through interviews with emotional eaters and an emotional eating conceptual model demonstrate that emotional eating is heavily influenced by food advertising, which can incite desire and ruminative thoughts about food. Additionally, emotional eaters may enlist prefactuals in the form of hedonic rationalizations to justify unhealthy eating behavior. Evidence from this research also suggests that individuals who emotionally eat may be doing so because such behavior has been learned. Finally, despite regulatory and policy efforts to create more informed consumers by providing nutrient content information on labels and packaging, emotional eaters possess little motivation to process this information. Implications for public policy and social marketing initiatives are discussed.


Emotional eating Overconsumption Obesity Social marketing 


  1. Aboulnasr, K., & Sivaranman, A. (2010). Food for thought: The effect of counterfactual thinking on the use of nutrition info. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 9(3), 191–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, J. C., & Gerbing, D. W. (1998). Structural equation modeling in practice: A review and recommended two-step approach. Psychological Bulletin, 103(3), 411–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andrade, E. B. (2005). Behavioral consequences of affect: Combining evaluative and regulatory mechanisms. Journal of Consumer Research, 32(12), 355–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arnold, T., Landry, T., & Wood, C. (2010). Prosocial effects in youth from involvement in an experiential, cause-related marketing event. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 18(1), 41–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arnow, B., Kenardy, J., & Argas, W. S. (1995). The emotional eating scale: The development of a measure to assess coping with negative affect by eating. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18(1), 79–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bagozzi, R. P., Wong, N., Abe, S., & Bergami, M. (2000). Cultural and situational contingencies and the theory of reasoned action: Application to fast food restaurant consumption. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 9(2), 97–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator–mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bekker, M., Carola, H. J., van de Meereondonk, C., & Mollerus, J. (2004). Effects of negative mood induction and impulsivity on self-perceived emotional eating, International Journal of Eating Disorders, 36, 461–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Biltekoff, C. (2010). Consumer response: The paradoxes of food and health. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1190, 174–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Block, L. G., Grier, S. A., Childers, T. L., Davis, B., Ebert, J. E. J., Kumanyika, S., et al. (2010). From Nutrients to Nurturance: A Conceptual Introduction to Food Well-being. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 30, 1.Google Scholar
  11. Bohon, C., Stice, E., & Spoor, S. (2009). Female emotional eaters show abnormalities in consummatory and anticipatory food reward: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 42(3), 210–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bradley, J. (2008). Top 100’s ad spend growth grinds to a halt. Advertising Age, 79(25), 1–2.Google Scholar
  13. Brown, S. L., Schiraldi, G. R., & Wrobleski, P. P. (2009). Association of eating behaviors and obesity with psychosocial and familial influences. American Journal of Health Education, 40, 80–89.Google Scholar
  14. Burton, S., & Creyer, E. (2004). What consumers don’t know can hurt them: Consumer evaluations and disease risk perceptions of restaurant menu items. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 38(Summer), 121–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clark, M. S., & Isen, A. M. (1982). Towards understanding the relationship between feeling states and social behavior. In H. A. Hastorf & A. M. Alice (Eds.), Cognitive social psychology (pp. 73–108). New York: Elsevier/North-Holland.Google Scholar
  16. D’Arrigo, T. (2007). Emotional eating: A sneak attack on weight loss, Diabetes Forecast, 60, 23.Google Scholar
  17. Davis, E. M., Zyzanski, S. J., Olson, C., Stange, K., & Horwitz, R. (2009). Racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences in the incidence of obesity related to childbirth, American Journal of Public Health, 99(February), 294–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Desrochers, D. M., & Holt, D. J. (2007). Children’s exposure to television advertising: implications for childhood obesity. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 26(2), 182–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elfhag, K., & Linne, Y. (2005). Gender differences in associations of eating pathology between mothers and their adolescent offspring. Obesity, 13(6), 1070–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eldridge, A., Stephanie, L., Smith-Warner, A., Lytle, L. A., & Murray, D. A. (1998). Comparison of 3 methods for counting fruits and vegetables for fourth-grade students in the Minnesota 5 a day power plus program, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 98(7), 777–783.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. FDA. (2009). “Labeling and nutrition.” Retrieved from U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
  22. Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, intention and behavior: An introduction to theory and research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  23. Flegal, K., Margaret, M., Carroll, D., Ogden, C. L., & Johnson, C. L. (2002). Prevalence and trends in obesity among U.S. adults, 1999–2000. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(14), 123–1727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fornell, C., & Larcker, D. F. (1981). Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error. Journal of Marketing Research, 16, 39–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fedoroff, I., Polivy, J., & Herman, P. C. (2003). The specificity of restrained versus unrestrained eaters’ responses to food cues: General desire to eat, or craving for the cued food? Appetite, 41(1), 7–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fredrickson, B., Mancuso, R. A., Branigan, C., & Tugade, M. (2000). The undoing effect of positive emotions. Motivation and Emotion, 24(12), 237–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. French, S., Story, M., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Fulkerson, J., & Hannan, P. (2001). Fast food restaurant use among adolescents: Associations with nutrient intake, food choices and behavioral and psychosocial variables. International Journal of Obesity, 25, 1832–1833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gearhardt, A. N., Corbin, W. R., & Brownell, K. D. (2009). Preliminary validation of the Yale food addiction scale. Appetite, 52(2), 430–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gleicher, F., David Boninger, D., Strathman, A., Armor, D., Hetts, J., & Ahn, M. (1995). With an eye toward the future: The impact of counterfactual thinking on affect, attitudes, and behavior. In N. J. Roese & J. M. Olson (Eds.), What might have been: the social psychology of counterfactual thinking (pp. 283–304). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  30. Goldberg, M. E., & Gunasti, K. (2007). Creating an environment in which youths are encouraged to eat a healthier diet. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 2(Fall), 162–181.Google Scholar
  31. Grier, S. A., Mensinger, J., Huang, S. H., Kumanyika, S. K., & Stettler, N. (2007). Fast-food marketing and children’s fast-food consumption: Exploring parents’ influences in an ethnically diverse sample. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 26(Fall), 221–235.Google Scholar
  32. Gross, J. (1998). Antecedent- and response-focused emotion regulation: Divergent consequences for experience, expression and physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(January), 224–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gross, J., Richards, J. M., & John, O. P. (2006). Emotion regulation in Everyday. In D. K. Snyder, J. A. Simpson, & J. N. Hughes (Eds.), Life emotion regulation in families (pp. 1–34). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  34. Hair, J., Babin, B., Anderson, R., & Tatham, R. (2006). Multivariate data analysis (6th ed.). New York: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  35. Harris, J. L., Bargh, J. A., & Brownell, K. D. (2009). Priming effects of television food advertising on eating behavior. Health Psychology, 28, 404–413.Google Scholar
  36. Howlett, E., Burton, S., & Kozup, J. (2008). How modification of the nutrition facts panel influences consumers at risk for heart disease: The case of trans fat. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 27(1), 83–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. International Association for the Study of Obesity. (2010). “Global adult obesity.” Retrieved from:
  38. Isen, A. (1984). The influence of positive affect on decision making and cognitive organization. Advances in Consumer Research, 11, 534–537.Google Scholar
  39. Keller, S. B., Olson, J., Landry, M., Velliquette, A. M., Burton, S., & Andrews, J. C. (1997). The effects of nutrition package claims, nutrition facts labels, and motivation to process nutrition information on consumer product evaluations. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 16(1), 256–69.Google Scholar
  40. Kemp, E., Burton, S., Creyer, E. H., & Suter, T. A. (2007). When do nutrient content and nutrient content claims matter? Assessing consumer trade-offs between carbohydrates and fat. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 41(1), 47–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kenny, D. A., Kashy, D. A., & Bolger, N. (1998). Data aanalysis in social psychology. The handbook of social psychology (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Kersh, R., & Morone, J. A. (2005). Obesity, courts and the new politics of public health. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 30(5), 839.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Manson, J. E., & Bassuk, S. S. (2003). Obesity in the United States: A fresh look at its high toll. Journal of the American Medical Association, 289(2), 299–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Manzoni, G. M., Pagnini, F., Gorini, A., Preziosa, A., Castelnuovo, G., Molinari, E., et al. (2009). Can relaxation training reduce emotional eating in women with obesity? An exploratory study with 3 months of follow-up. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(8), 1427–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Martin, E. W. (2001). Emotional eating. Psychology Today, 34, 20.Google Scholar
  46. Martin, L., & Tesser, A. (1996). Some ruminative thoughts. In R. S. Wyer (Ed.), Advances in social cognition, vol. 9 (pp. 1–48). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  47. Moore, D. J., & Bovell, L. J. (2008). The affective-cognitive model of stimulus-based affect: Individual differences in response to the vividness of product descriptions? Advances in Consumer Research, 35, 695–696.Google Scholar
  48. Mehta, A., & Pruvis, S. C. (2006). Reconsidering recall and emotions in advertising, Journal of Advertising Research (March), 46, 49–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mohr, P., Wilson, C., Dunn, K., Brindal, E., & Wittert, G. (2007). Personal and lifestyle characteristics predictive of the consumption of fast foods in Australia. Public Health Nutrition, 90(12), 1456–1463.Google Scholar
  50. Morris, W., & Reilly, N. P. (1987). Toward the self-regulation of mood: Theory and research. Motivation and Emotion, 11, 215–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nielsen Media. (2009). Nielsen Strategic Planner.Google Scholar
  52. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Morrow, J. (1991). A prospective study of depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms after a natural disaster: The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 155–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Nunnally, J. C., & Bernstein, I. H. (1994). Psychometric theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  54. Obesity, F., & Week, W. (2006). Eating disorders: Emotional eating haunts millions of American. Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week, 18, 668.Google Scholar
  55. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Curtin, L. R., McDowell, M. A., Tabak, C. J., & Flegal, K. M. (2006). Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004. Journal of the American Medical Association, 295, 1549–1555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Patel, K. A., & Schlundt, D. A. (2001). Impact of moods and social context on eating behavior. Appetite, 36, 111–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Peeters, A., Barendregt, J. J., Willekens, F., Mackenbach, J. P., Al Mamun, A., & Bonneux, L. (2003). Obesity in adulthood and its consequences for life expectancy: A life-table analysis. Annuals of Internal Medicine, 138(1), 24–32.Google Scholar
  58. Rothschild, M. L. (1999). Carrots, sticks, and promises: A conceptual framework for the management of public health and social issue behaviors. Journal of Marketing, 63(4), 24–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Scharff, R. L. (2009). Obesity and hyperbolic discounting: Evidence and implications. Journal of Consumer Policy, 32, 33–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Seiders, K., & Petty, R. D. (2004). Obesity and the role of food marketing: A policy analysis of issues and remedies. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 23(Fall), 153–169.Google Scholar
  61. Spoor, S. T. (2007). New life sciences study results from University of Texas, Department of Psychology. Women’s Health Weekly, 28, 149.Google Scholar
  62. Tabor, E. (2006). Review for handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory and applications. Psychiatric Services, 5(April), 585–586.Google Scholar
  63. Thomaselli, R. (2007). GSK diet drug: From failure to blockbuster. Advertising Age, 78(July), 3–5.Google Scholar
  64. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Healthy people 2010: Understanding and improving health and objectives for improving health (2nd ed.). Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  65. Van Strien, T., Frijters, J. E. R., Bergers, G. P. A., & Defares, P. B. (1986). The Dutch Eating Behaviour questionnaire (DEBQ) for assessment of restrained, emotional and external eating behavior. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 5, 747–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Van Strien, T. (2000). Ice-cream consumption, tendency toward overeating, and personality. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 28, 460–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Viswanathan, M., Hastak, M., & Gau, R. (2009). Understanding and facilitating the usage of nutritional labels by low-literate consumers. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 28(2), 135–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Warner, G. (2010). “GSK to fund film on emotional eating.” Marketplace Morning Reports, January 22Google Scholar
  69. Wicks, J. L., Warren, R., Fosu, I., & Wicks, R. H. (2009). Dual modality disclaimers, emotional appeals and production techniques in food advertising airing during programs rated for children: Is there a good balance? Journal of Advertising, 38(4), 93–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Texas State UniversitySan MarcosUSA
  2. 2.Loyola Marymount UniversityLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.American UniversityKogod School of BusinessWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations