News coverage detailing harmful effects of trans fat, along with labelling information, could prompt shoppers to stay away from short-term purchases of foods high in trans fat, according to a new study.
However, such coverage does not suffice to influence consumers to avoid these potentially artery-clogging purchases over the long term.
"Our study found that when consumers are exposed to information about the harmful effects of trans fat on the local news, they buy fewer products high in trans fat. In the absence of broader changes in food policy and public education, news coverage may be insufficient to produce lasting reductions in trans-fat purchases and consumption," said Dr. Jeff Niederdeppe, lead author of the study.
In the study, researchers examined news effects on the sale of seven brand-specific products that contained trans fat at the time of the study, including buttered popcorn, vegetable shortening, buttermilk biscuits, sandwich cookies, stick margarine, crescent rolls and hotdogs.
It was found that for the next one week after the stories appeared, consumer purchases dropped significantly for six out of seven products, except hot dog purchases.
But, three weeks later, consumer purchases went back up for half of these products.
Trans fat is found in partially hydrogenated (partially hardened) oils and is associated with a substantially increased risk of coronary heart disease.
"While news coverage is a potentially valuable source of information, and one that can help the public to make informed decisions about their health, this study shows that news coverage alone is not enough to sustain changes in consumer behavior," said Dominick L. Frosch, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an alumnus of the RWJF Health and Society Scholars Program.
Researchers examined news coverage about trans fat and sales data for seven products containing trans fat from a major grocery store chain in Los Angeles County, Calif., before and after the federal labelling change.
A recurring theme of the news coverage included the relationship between trans fat consumption and coronary heart disease.
The study, titled 'News Coverage and Sales of Products with Trans Fat: Effects Before and After Changes in Federal Labeling Policy', has been published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.