Countermarketing Alcohol and Unhealthy Food: An Effective Strategy for Preventing Noncommunicable Diseases? Lessons from Tobacco
The World Health Organization has identified tobacco, alcohol, and processed food as leading causes of noncommunicable diseases and the primary contributors to global premature deaths, preventable illnesses, and national and international inequalities in health. Each year, the tobacco, alcohol, and food industries spend billions of dollars marketing their products, which increases the number of people who consume these products and the amount of product they consume.
Public health professionals have used multiple strategies, including taxation, product reformulation, mandates, regulation, and public education, to reduce the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food and beverages. Although these interventions have been effective, they often encounter powerful industry opposition. Evidence-based strategies that educate people about the harms of specific products and the practices involved in marketing them can enhance the impact of comprehensive approaches to reducing the consumption of these harmful products.
This review, written by Lori Dorfman, director of PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group and partners at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, examines the potential for countermarketing (CM) to reduce the consumption of alcohol and unhealthy food products (including beverages), drawing on lessons learned from tobacco control.
Although CM has been used in the public health literature to define a wide range of activities, from risk reduction education to organized boycotts of selected products, authors define CM as communications strategies designed to reduce the consumption of unhealthy products by exposing the motives of and denormalizing marketing activities initiated by the producers of these products. In tobacco, denormalization has been defined as activities that “shift the focus from individual smokers’ judgment to corporate misbehavior showing how the industry has ‘operated outside the boundaries of civilized corporate behavior’ by marketing a deadly product.”
Thirty years of research has shown that mass-media campaigns that rely on CM have been effective in reducing tobacco use. Although public health and advocacy groups have launched various initiatives to apply the CM approach to alcohol and unhealthy food, no systematic evaluations of such campaigns have been reported. In this article, we identify eight key components of successful tobacco CM campaigns and assess their relevance for campaigns against alcohol and unhealthy food and beverages. The brief's broader goal is to advance public health practice and research on CM. Read the full article.