Corporate Leanwashing and Consumer Beliefs About Obesity
Purpose of Review
Caloric overconsumption, rather than lack of exercise, is the primary driver of overweight and obesity. We review people’s beliefs about the causes of obesity, the origins and consequences of these beliefs, and suggest possible mechanisms for corrective action.
In multiple samples across the world, approximately half of the population mistakenly believes that lack of exercise is the primary cause of obesity. These misbeliefs have consequences: people who underestimate the importance of one’s diet are more likely to be overweight or obese than people who correctly believe that diet is the primary cause of obesity. Next, we discuss the systematic misrepresentation of these factors—which we call “leanwashing”—by the food and beverage industry. Corporate messaging and actions are likely contributing factors to these mistaken beliefs being so widespread, and thus corrective actions are required. These include regulation and taxation.
People’s beliefs have important medical consequences, and the origins of these beliefs and misbeliefs need to be monitored and regulated.
KeywordsObesity crisis Consumer behavior Market failure Public policy Corporate social responsibility Sugar tax
B. McFerran is supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. A. Mukhopadhyay is supported by the HKUST Institute for Emerging Market Studies and the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong. We thank Agnes Chan for the excellent research assistance.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
Aneel Karnani, Brent McFerran, and Anirban Mukhopadhyay declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
All reported studies/experiments with human or animal subjects performed by the authors have been previously published, with one exception. All reported studies/experiments complied with all applicable ethical standards (including the Helsinki declaration and its amendments, institutional/national research committee standards, and international/national/institutional guidelines).
Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance
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