Summary

  • Intentions are a good predictor of behaviour.
  • Participants who believed they could reduce their red meat consumption were more likely to have intentions to do so.
  • Receiving daily phone messages that reminded participants to monitor their red meat consumption resulted in a reduction in consumption.

Take Home Message

Researchers were able to shift people’s intentions and consumption of red meat by associating it with bad health and through the promotion of self-monitoring.

Paper's Stats

Animal Status

No animals were harmed for this research.

The consumption of red meat, i.e. cow and lamb flesh, is problematic for a lot of reasons, including negative environmental impacts, increased risk of chronic disease, and the use and killing of the animals. Given the seriousness of such impacts there is a growing awareness that we need to cut red meat out of our diets. Despite the importance of such dietary shifts there are few studies that investigate methods for reducing red meat consumption.  

Research in the journal Social Science & Medicine is helping to fill this gap by conducting two studies into the topic. The first study investigated whether the Theory of Planned Behaviour (more on this below), self-identity and past behaviour can be used to predict whether someone will reduce their red meat consumption. The second study tested the effect that a daily message had on participants intentions and behaviours in regards to reducing red flesh consumption.

Theory of Planned Behaviour DiagramSome background information

Before we get into what was done and what was found, it’s important to know a little bit about the Theory of Planned Behaviour and self-identity. The theory basically states that the best predictor of a behaviour is the intention to perform that behaviour. So if my intent is to eat a vegan doughnut then that’s a pretty good predictor that I will eat a vegan doughnut.

To break it down even more, someone’s intentions towards a behaviour are explained by their attitude, subjective norms, and their perceived behavioural control regarding that behaviour. Attitudes describe an individual’s opinions or beliefs regarding a particular topic. Subjectives norms is basically peer pressure to do something, or not, regarding a particular topic. Perceived behavioural control describes whether an individual thinks they are capable and have the tools to change.

Self-identity may be an even better predictor of dietary intentions than theory of planned behaviour. That’s because the foods we choose to eat help to create and maintain the identity that we present to the world. In this study they wanted to determine whether someone’s meat-eating identity and/or healthy-eating identity would be a predictor of their intention to reduce red meat consumption.  

Study 1

How did they do it?

The researchers got 342 university students to fill out a daily food diary for one week which measured their food consumption. The researchers calculated red meat consumption from the diaries as a measure of past behaviour. At the end of the week the students were asked to complete a questionnaire that evaluated individuals in relation to Theory of Planned Behaviour and measures of self-identity.

The questions in the questionnaire provided a measure for each participant’s intentions, subjective norms, perceived behavioural control, attitudes, meat-eating identity and healthy-eating identity in relation to reducing red meat consumption. For example, a question measuring intention was, “I intend to eat less than two medium portions of red meat over the next week… answer on a scale from: definitely do not – definitely do”.

The researchers looked at the relationship between intention and all of the other measures, including past behaviour, to see which ones best predicted intention.

What did they find?

The study showed that perceived behavioural control and attitude were the strongest predictors of an individual’s intention to reduce their red meat consumption. Unsurprisingly, those who had a strong meat-eating identity were less likely to have intentions to reduce their red-meat consumption.

Study 2

How did they do it?

The researchers got 244 students to fill out daily food diaries for one week to track their food consumption. The participants then filled out the same questionnaire as discussed above. At this point participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups, the intervention group or the control group.

Both groups continued to fill out their food diaries for another 7 days. During this period the intervention group received a daily phone message, reminding them to monitor their red meat consumption so they don’t eat more than is recommended for a ‘healthy’ diet. At the end of the 7 day intervention period all participants completed the questionnaire again.

Message from researchersSelf-monitoring can be an effective technique for helping change behaviour because it helps identify when behaviours aren’t matching intentions. In this study the researchers combined self-monitoring (daily food diary) with regular reminders (phone messages) that connected self-monitoring with the intention to reduce red meat consumption.

This time they compared the difference in the questionnaire measures between the two groups to see if the intervention affected participants intentions or behaviours.

What did they find?

Participants who received the daily phone messages reduced their red meat consumption and increased their intention to reduce red meat consumption. The intervention also affected participants perceived behavioural control, their attitude and their healthy-eating identity.

The results suggest that the increase in participants healthy-eating identity reduced their meat-eating identity, which lead to increased intentions to reduce red meat consumption and ultimately ended up with them actually reducing their red meat consumption.

What does it mean?

This study provides some insight into the mechanisms that might drive people’s consumption of red meat. The researchers were able to shift people’s intentions and consumption of red meat by associating it with bad health and through the promotion of self-monitoring.

Perceived behavioural control and attitudes were identified as significant indicators for the intention and subsequent reduction in red meat consumption. This suggests that developing positive attitudes towards reducing meat consumption and helping people believe they are able to change may be important targets for activists in this space.

There are a few limitations with the study that are important to point out. First, it was only conducted with Italian university students which means it may not be translatable to other groups or places. The intervention was very short so it’s not clear whether the results would hold over a longer period of time. And finally, their method for measuring red meat consumption was fairly simplistic and didn’t indicate the size in changes in red meat reduction.

While the purpose of this study to reduce red meat consumption I am interested to knowing whether similar techniques would work for ending meat consumption completely. Reducing red meat consumption is a very different behavioural change compared to totally giving it up, so it might not translate.

I would also like to know if one’s ethical-eating identity might be a worthwhile variable to investigating. Many people say they’re concerned with the treatment of animals used for food, It would be interesting to see how this concern relates to intentions and behaviours regarding the consumption of others.

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Adam with his beautiful cat Fabi

Dr Adam Cardilini


I’m a scientist, teacher and activist. My training is in ecological and environmental science, but I love all science and enjoy sharing it with others.

Title: Correlational study and randomised controlled trial for understanding and changing red meat consumption: The role of eating identities

Authors: V. Carfora, D. Caso, M. Conner

Journal: Social Science & Medicine

Date Published: January 25, 2017

URLhttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953617300059

Paper Access

Behing paywall

Research Type

Peer-reviewed research