Usability and validity of visual research methodology to identify social cues related to eating

  • S. Raghoebar
  • S. van Rongen
  • R. Lie
  • E. de Vet


Background: The ‘obesogenic’ environment is often held responsible for the current obesity epidemic. Most epidemiological research is focused on the effect of food availability and accessibility on food choice/intake. However, it remains poorly understood what exactly makes food environments impair healthy diets. Using visual research methodology, this study aims to explore in an innovative way how subtle cues are naturally/accidently embedded in food environments which may spur unhealthy eating. More specifically, the focus is on subtle normative cues that are implicitly connected with available foods (e.g. food wrappers). Methods: A mixed method design was used. Firstly, environmental normative cues were visually identified by employing an interpretative qualitative analysis using photo data. Photographs of eight different food environments were taken and analyzed on the basis of a shooting script, built on social norm theory. Terminology of semiotics was applied in the analyses. Inspired by grounded theory, the descriptive field notes were used to identify and categorize environmental normative cues. Secondly, in a photo ratings study, it was tested whether independent respondents (students, N=200) interpret environmental normative cues on the photos. Alternative explanations, including effort, salience and liking, were also measured. Findings: Regarding the qualitative study, preliminary results showed that many different cues could be categorized into descriptive and injunctive social norms, encouraging or discouraging eating. Currently, we are completing the qualitative study and planning to perform the quantitative study in the beginning of April. Discussion: The identified subtle normative cues could strategically be used to redesign food environments stimulating healthier choices.
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