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.
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US Census (2009) Ethnic Minority Profile Estimates: African American = 13.5%, Hispanic = 15%, Asian American = 5%, and Native American = 1.5%
To ensure that there were no “city effects,” given that our sample was obtained from residents from multiple cities, place of residence was modeled as a covariate. There were no significant effects; hence, place of residence is not included in the model.
Although not a part of our conceptual model, an individual’s satisfaction with their weight (higher values indicating more satisfaction) was negatively related to emotional eating behavior (r = −0.19, p < 0.01) and overconsumption (r = −.26, p < 0.01).
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Emotional Eating (.92)
In general, how often do you eat to cope with your emotions (or feelings)?
Attitude toward Advertising for Hedonic Foods (.93)
Anchored by Strongly Disagree/Strongly Agree
I feel that advertisements for indulgent food items are persuasive.
I feel that advertisements for indulgent food items are convincing.
Advertisements for indulgent food items are interesting.
Desire for Hedonic Foods (.96)
In general, how often do you desire or crave indulgent food items? Infrequently/Frequently
Hedonic Rationalizations (.78) Adapted from Moore and Bovell (2008)
Anchored by Strongly Disagree/Strongly Agree
Yielding to this temptation once, won’t hurt me.
I deserve a break sometimes to enjoy life.
This is so delicious, I’ll just enjoy it.
Anchored by Strongly Disagree/Strongly Agree
Memories of indulgent food items pop into my head when trying to work.
I spend time thinking about when I can consume indulgent food items.
Pictures of indulgent food items pop into my mind throughout the day.
Social Norms (.87)
Anchored by Strongly Disagree/Strongly Agree
My family members eat indulgent food items.
My community members eat indulgent food items. (Removed to improve model fit)
Most people who are important to me eat indulgent food items.
Motivation to Process Nutrition Information (.90)
In general, how often do you read the NUTRITION FACTS panel (located on the package or label) that reports nutrient information on food products? Not Often/Very Often
In general, how interested are you in reading nutrition and health-related information?
Very Interested/Not Interested (Removed to improve model fit)
I really care about reading nutrition information and nutrition labels. Not At All/Very Much
Overconsumption of Hedonic Foods (.94)
Anchored by Never to Frequently
In general, I feel like I eat more indulgent food items than I should.
At times, I eat a lot of indulgent food items.
My diet includes many indulgent food items.
I eat a fair amount of indulgent food.
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Kemp, E., Bui, M. & Grier, S. Eating Their Feelings: Examining Emotional Eating in At-Risk Groups in the United States. J Consum Policy 34, 211–229 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10603-010-9149-y
- Emotional eating
- Social marketing