New research suggests that President Donald Trump’s affinity for fast food can influence the public’s dietary intentions, and potentially contribute to a greater disease burden on society.
The new study, published in the journal Appetite, builds upon research that has shown a link between media coverage of a public figure’s health and changes in public behavior.
“I noticed there was a decent amount of news coverage and general media commentary about President Trump’s love of fast food, and it was in stark contrast to most of the food-related media coverage of the Obama presidency, which focused more on Michelle Obama’s garden and the pressure she put on President Obama to eat healthy,” explained Jessica Gall Myrick (@jessmyrick), the author of the study and an associate professor of media studies at the Pennsylvania State University.
“That observation sparked my curiosity about the possibility that the media coverage of Trump’s fast-food-heavy diet could be related to the public’s view of how acceptable it is to eat fast food as well as how likely they are to actually eat it themselves. And, because obesity is such a serious health problem in the United States and fast food consumption is associated with higher rates of obesity, it seemed like an important topic to investigate.”
For her study, Myrick had 1,050 American adults complete an online survey in February of 2018, which assessed how much attention they paid to media coverage of President Trump’s eating habits — among several other things.
“This was a nationally representative survey where the sample demographics reflected percentages from the U.S. Census for gender, age, education, race, household income, and geographic region,” Myrick said.
The survey revealed that exposure to Trump’s dietary preferences was associated with the intention to eat fast food.
In other words, the more people paid attention to Trump’s eating habits, the more likely they were to agree with statements such as “Given my lifestyle and/or taste preferences, it is likely that I will eat fast food regularly over the next four weeks” and “I am likely to eat fast food regularly over the next month.”
This was true even after Myrick controlled for the effects of education, race, political party, income, gender, age, and perceived weight status.
In addition, the survey found that people who indicated they paid more attention to general media about President Trump were more likely to say those close to them regularly dined on fast food.
“In general, the results of this survey show that people who pay more attention to media coverage of President Trump’s diet are more likely to view fast food as a socially acceptable meal option and are more likely to intend to eat fast food in the near future,” Myrick explained.
“For both Republicans and Democrats, greater attention to media coverage of Trump’s diet was related to more positive attitudes toward fast food. However, for Republicans, this relationship was nearly twice as strong, meaning that as attention to media coverage of Trump’s diet increases, Republicans are quicker to report positive attitudes toward fast food than are Democrats.”
“But, for people who did not identify as either Republicans or Democrats (that is, people who identify as Independent or who identify with smaller parties), there was not a relationship between attention to media about Trump’s diet and attitudes toward fast food,” Myrick told PsyPost.
“Even if the effects of media coverage of Trump’s love of fast food are small at the individual level, when you aggregate those effects across the entire U.S. population, these data suggest there could be harm caused to public health by encouraging many Americans to eat fast food more so than they would if the president was not so positive about this unhealthy type of food,” Myrick added.
However, the study does not provide definite information about cause-and-effect relationships between Trump’s diet and Americans’ intentions to eat fast food.
“This was a cross-sectional survey, or ‘single snapshot’ of the interrelationships between attention to media coverage about Trump’s diet and fast food-related attitudes and behavioral intentions. So, it only gives us a good idea of that one point in time,” Myrick said.
“Future work could follow people over time to see how, as their attention to different types of media accumulates and shifts, their dietary choices might likewise shift.”