Social media content featuring fatty foods is more appealing to people

It’s therefore no surprise that they have turned more and more to social media for food-related posts. Social media is a great way to satisfy our culinary cravings when we can’t get to our favorite restaurants, fast-food outlets, or cafes.

What is it about food videos that attracts users, generates likes and comments?

In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, we examined the nutritional composition of the dishes shown on social media. We read the ingredients and recipes for hundreds of Facebook Videos from Buzzfeed Tasty and found that caloric content can positively impact social media engagement.

It is interesting to note that not all nutrients have the same effect on engagement. People may be more likely to engage with nutrients that they can easily see, such as saturated fats.

Eat with your eyes

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our relationship with food. What we eatWhere we eatWhy we eat the way we do; and When we ate.

It is not surprising that people spend more time on social networks after the outbreak of the pandemic. The widespread use of social media has changed the way people view food.

Instagram users are flooded with food-related images. At the time this article was published, there were more than 400,000,000 posts that tagged #food. There were also 250,000,000 tags #foodporn.

Buzzfeed Tasty is the largest digital culinary network in the world, with more than 100,000,000 followers on Facebook, and more than a billion views per month.

Understanding the characteristics of engagement in food media is critical for several groups. Content producers are looking to tailor their media to viewer preferences, advertisers are seeking to increase marketing effectiveness, and health advocates want to help consumers make healthier eating choices.

Social media and nutrition

The brain is hard-wired for humans to choose foods that have characteristics. It is common for people to enjoy food that has a high-fat content, such as burgers, cookies, and pizza, before they have seen it.

People feel better when they eat foods that are high in calories, as dopamine is released and stimulates the pleasure centres of their brain. This shows that a dish’s visual appearance can give a good indication of its nutritional value.

(Shutterstock) We are hard-wired for finding calorie-dense food more appealing. (Shutterstock)

Positive content is more likely to go viral. Social media content that is positive and makes people feel good has a higher chance of being liked, commented on and shared. Visual exposure to food media with a high calorie content — rather than calorie-light media — is likely to increase social media engagement.

More fat = more engagement?

Our research used a text processing algorithm to examine the ingredients and recipes for hundreds of Facebook Videos from Buzzfeed Tasty. We found that caloric content can influence social media engagement. In several follow-up studies, positive affect, or the degree to which we feel better after viewing calorie-dense food, may help explain the link.

It seems that all nutrients do not have the same effect on engagement. It may be the saturated fats that are more visible to people.

Butter and cheese are high in saturated fats. They are also found in meats, oils, and other foods.

Our findings are in line with the particular approach taken to food photography whereby adding an fake sheen using WD-40 makes food appear more plump, juicy and moist.

This raises an interesting question. Can you make vegetables more appealing by adding visual qualities associated with fattier food, such as coating them in a sheen or applying observable traits to foods that are higher in fat?

These visual characteristics can help inform strategies for increasing engagement with health-conscious media content.

Healthy eating can be promoted by leveraging social media engagement. (Anna Pelzer/Unsplash), CC BY

Amplification is important

Why is social media engagement important?

Social media platforms utilize ranking algorithms in order to boost and prioritize content that has received more engagement. It is not enough to simply post content online. Engagement with content is what increases reach and allows content to be seen by a larger audience. Content that features unhealthy or high-calorie foods is more likely than not to be engaging and, therefore, more likely to reach a wider audience.

Our research provides some initial insights into the influence of nutritional composition on social media engagement. Understanding the factors that influence engagement with food media is important, as consumers are increasingly interested in digital content, particularly during pandemics. This has implications for public health.

This research shows that nutrition influences the food people eat and may even shape social dynamics, affecting what people share.

Consider what makes a particular food appealing to you the next time you share, like, or comment on a video.

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