Inoculation message treatments for curbing noncommunicable disease development

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Objective. To study the effect of various types of inoculation message treatments on resistance to persuasive and potentially deceptive health- and nutrition-related (HNR) content claims of commercial food advertisers.

Methods. A three-phase experiment was conducted among 145 students from a Midwestern U.S. university. Quantitative statistical analyses were used to interpret the results.

Results. Results provide clear evidence that integrating regulatory focus/fit considerations enhances the treatment effectiveness of inoculation messages. Inoculation messages that employed a preventative, outcome focus with concrete language were most effective at countering HNR advertising claims. The findings indicate that inoculation fosters resistance equally across the most common types of commercially advertised HNR product claims (e.g., absolute, general, and structure/function claims).

Conclusions. As the drive to refine the inoculation process model continues, further testing and application of this strategy in a public health context is needed to counter ongoing efforts by commercial food advertisers to avoid government regulations against deceptive practices such as dubious health/nutrition claims. This research advances inoculation theory by providing evidence that 1) good regulatory fit strengthens the effect of refutational preemption and 2) an inoculation approach is highly effective at fostering resistance to commercial advertisers’ HNR content claims. This macro approach appears far superior to education or information based promotional health campaigns targeted solely at specific populations demonstrating rising rates of noncommunicable disease.