Food Marketing: Social Media Promotion and Food Photos   

February 25, 2016

When you look at a food photo your brain may be telling you it's healthy simply because the blogger posting the food has a healthy appearance.

Take a look at any picture of a burger and fries in just about any fast food commercial - in our brains we know that's not healthy but in our heart and mind? New research at Cornell University finds that how unhealthy we believe food is or is not has a strong influence from the packaging and who is promoting the food. 

The Cornell researchers' findings go one step further than just the beautiful print and TV ads touting these indulgences. They found that when a photo shows up on social media by someone who is "of normal weight," we believe the burger and fries is healthier than if the same photo is posted by someone obese.  

Here’s how the research at Cornell was conducted: 230 participants, who were divided into two groups, were given photos of food (examples included "chopped salad with croutons" and "sliced beef with vegetables") along with the photo of a blogger that supposedly posted the photo. They were then asked how healthy the food was on a scale of one to seven. The only variable was the bloggers' photos. When they crunched the numbers, researchers found that people felt meals were less healthy when the meal was presented by an overweight blogger.

In a second study, researchers upped the ante by providing fat and calorie content information of the meal. Even in those cases, participants considered the food presented by the thinner blogger "healthier." Which is to say that having facts in front of someone is less important than simply the person behind the photograph.

Dr. Jonathon Schuldt, assistant professor and lead author of the study says, "People appear to assume that if a heavier person is recommending food, it is probably richer and less healthy.”

These days a lot of us are getting more food-ucated thru social media. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are replacing the Betty Crocker and Martha Stewart cookbooks often with photos of the person posting the recipe - which may influence what people choose to eat. The question is can we trust the photo to be accurate?

The next time you see a scrumptious food photo, take a minute to look further - who is posting? What are their credentials? Are they listing nutritional info?

My recommendation? Stick with the people who do healthy recipes for a living, folks like our friend Lisa Lillien at Hungy Girl where they test every recipe in their own test kitchens with a strict criteria before it is posted.