The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss recently came out against Boris Johnson’s planned regulations to reducing obesity in the UK. She said the population doesn’t ‘want the government telling them what to eat’. One of the most contentious points is banning HFSS (high in saturated fat, salt and sugar) food and drink TV and online ads before 9pm.

While banning ads of HFSS food and drink is no silver bullet in tackling the problem of obesity in the UK, it does, from a behavioural perspective, play a role in reducing unhealthy eating. There are two key elements that are worth considering:

1. The hot and cold empathy gap

We operate on a spectrum between two mental states, cold and hot. In a cold mental state we are rational, logical and intact from emotional drivers. In a hot state, we are influenced by factors such as emotions, hunger, sexual desire, exhaustion, and fear. Research has shown that people’s intentions in the cold mental state poorly translate to when they are in a hot state. For example, making a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym twice a week (cold state) might not actually pan out when it comes to having to go on a rainy day in January after being exhausted from work (hot state). In the same way, deciding to eat healthier during a relaxing weekend (cold state), does not always translate to when one gets home from work tired and hungry. In this moment, advertising about HFSS food and drink may nudge people to pick them for dinner.

2. The B=MAT model

These insights can be contextualised well in the B=MAT model. The model states that a behaviour occurs when three factors are present: motivation (to eat healthy), ability (to make healthy food) and trigger (reminder of the behaviour). As for ability, it is usually easier and cheaper to order or prepare unhealthy food, so one needs to be motivated to ensure that they eat healthy. The challenge is that even if one intends to eat healthy, when they are in a hot state, they may be more susceptible to triggers (advertisement) about unhealthy and often tastier options.

B Mat

So, considering the above insights with regards to human decision-making, the ban on advertisement on HFSS, from a behavioural perspective, would play a role in reducing the amount of people who opt for these food and drink. It would especially benefit those who intend to eat healthier but are struggling to stay consistent due to internal and external triggers to do otherwise. However, such ban would not solve the UK’s obesity problem, as it would require a comprehensive approach looking at the various causes of obesity and tacking them one by one.

At Behave, we understand people and what might affect their decision making. For more information contact our expert team today.

Daniel Hegman - Associate Consultant

Author:Daniel Hegman - Associate Consultant

Daniel completed an undergraduate degree in Politics at SOAS and a postgraduate degree in Cognitive and Decision Sciences at the University College London. At Behave, Daniel combines his academic training and first-hand experience in digital advertising to help clients develop innovative and effective ways of reaching their current and prospective customers.