Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

The Effects of Message Framing on Soda Consumption in Young Adults

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Robert Carels (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Mary-Jon Ludy (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

William O’Brien (Committee Member)


Overconsumption of added sugars is a serious public health concern in the United States and accounts for about 16.3% of total daily energy intake (369.2 kilocalories) among young adults. One of the major contributors to added sugar consumption is sugar-sweetened beverages, of which soda represents the largest source (a third of all added sugars consumed). This is problematic because soda is empty calories and puts young adults at risk for a lifelong battle with preventable health conditions. Regulatory fit, which takes into consideration the motivational orientation of the individual, provides a framework for designing persuasive health messages. The current study sought to investigate how framing health- or appearance-focused messages based on one’s regulatory orientation influenced attitudes, intentions, and behaviors related to soda consumption.

One hundred forty-seven young adults, aged 18 to 25, participated in the main survey. After completing questionnaires that assessed their regulatory orientation and dietary intake over the prior week, participants were randomly assigned to a 2 (message framing: gain or loss) x 2 (message focus: health or appearance) condition, where they were presented with one of four video messages pertaining to reducing soda intake. Following this, they answered questions about their attitudes and intentions towards reducing their soda intake and if they were interested in a one-week follow-up survey. Fifty-two participants completed the follow-up.

No significant differences were found in outcomes when framing messages based on one’s regulatory orientation or, when experiencing fit, on the focus of the messages. However, the video messages, overall, were effective in reducing soda consumption by 33% and sugar-sweetened beverage and overall added sugar intake by 20%.

While the current study was unable to demonstrate the effectiveness of message framing using regulatory fit, the broader success of this study still offers a promising avenue for further research. A key issue facing traditional interventions are their feasibility, as most tend to be costly, time consuming, and resource-intensive. The current study, therefore, offers a simple, cost-effective approach that is not only engaging and approachable, but could be easily disseminated and, most importantly, provide a foundation towards enacting real change.