The conceptualisation and operationalisation of 'marketing' in public health research: a review of reviews focused on food marketing using principles from critical interpretive synthesis.
BMC Public Health 2023 ; 23: 1419.
PubMed ID : 37488556
PMCID : PMC10367353
Extensive public health research reports the nature, scope and effects of various marketing activities used by food and drinks companies to support the sale of their products. Such literature informs the regulation of food marketing that encourages unhealthy eating behaviours and poor diet-related health outcomes. However, it is not clear whether this literature consistently conceptualises and applies marketing, which could in turn influence the approach and efficacy of policies to regulate food marketing. We aimed to understand the conceptualisation and operationalisation of marketing in public health research of food marketing, eventually focusing on the conceptualisation of integrated marketing.
We conducted a review of reviews that drew on scoping review methods and applied principles of critical interpretive synthesis. Five databases of peer-reviewed literature and websites of relevant organisations were searched in June - August 2020. Articles were screened against inclusion criteria to identify reviews examining food marketing in a health context. Informative text segments from included articles were coded using NVivo. Codes were grouped into synthetic constructs and a synthesising argument.
After screening against inclusion criteria, 60 publications were eligible for inclusion. Informative text segments from 24 publications were coded, after which no new codes were identified. Our synthesising argument was that the understanding of integrated marketing appeared inconsistent across publications, such as by differences in use of underlying conceptual frameworks and in the application of terms such as marketing strategy and tactics.
Using our synthesising argument, we suggest ways to improve the future study of food marketing in public health research, for example by using in-depth case studies to understand the integrated operation and effect of multi-component marketing strategies. Improving conceptual clarity in the study of food marketing in public health research has the potential to inform policy that is more reflective of the true nature of marketing, and thus more effective in combating food marketing effects and protecting public health.
The review protocol was made publicly available on Open Science Framework prior to the start of the study (DOI: https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/VSJCW ).
This research is about how food and drinks companies use marketing to sell their products and how it affects people's health. Public health researchers have studied this extensively and found that certain marketing practices promote unhealthy eating habits and negative health outcomes. However, the way researchers define and approach marketing in these studies can be inconsistent, which might affect how effective policies are in regulating food marketing. To understand this better, we reviewed existing studies on food marketing in a health context. We made the research protocol available to the public before the study started, to ensure transparency and openness. We analysed 60 publications that met our criteria and focused on 24 of them for in-depth analysis. We found that the concept of "integrated marketing," which refers to how different marketing strategies work together, was understood differently across these publications. Some researchers used different frameworks and terms when talking about marketing strategies and tactics. Based on our findings, we suggest ways to improve future studies in this area. We recommend using detailed case studies to understand how different marketing strategies work together. By clarifying the concepts used in public health research on food marketing, policymakers can create more effective policies to combat the negative effects of marketing on public health.