Study: Online Appeals Impact Individual Meat Consumption and Attitudes


The Reducetarian Lab

New York, NY (October 21, 2016) – The Reducetarian Foundation commissioned a study exploring the impact of “reduce” and “eliminate” messaging on individual meat consumption and attitudes.  The study found that these appeals in the form of news articles lead to significant reductions in individual meat consumption and meaningful changes in attitudes about animals and animal agriculture.

High levels of meat consumption is a major societal problem in the eyes of many environmentalists, health practitioners, and animal welfare advocates. While many other health-related and environmental behaviors have been the subject of extensive research (e.g. smoking, electricity usage, physical exercise), there is strikingly little experimental research that specifically examines the effectiveness of different interventions and messaging appeals aimed at encouraging individuals to reduce their meat consumption.

“This is one of the first experimental surveys to our knowledge that demonstrates how a short news article with a simple anti-meat appeal can influence individual diets and attitudes five weeks later,” said Brian Kateman, Co-Founder and President of the Reducetarian Foundation. “This evidence is certainly good news considering many people appear to be resistant to eating less meat despite efforts by advocates.”

The study had one group of participants read an article with a reduce appeal, which encouraged individuals to reduce their meat consumption but not eliminate it entirely from their diet. A second group of participants read an article with an eliminate appeal that encouraged individuals to completely give up eating meat. A third group of participants was the control group which read an article about walking as a form of exercise.

One week before participants read the article and five weeks after they read it, the researchers asked them to report how frequently they ate meat products (e.g., chicken, pork, beef, and fish). They looked to see if participants who read the reduce and eliminate news articles reduced their meat consumption more than participants who read the control article. The researchers collected data from 2,237 participants.

Here is a summary of the findings:

  • Reading the reduce and eliminate articles caused participants to reduce their meat consumption by about one serving per week. Chicken, pork, and fish were reduced the most, however these product-specific effects were not statistically significant. (Note: the reduce and eliminate news articles performed the same – one did not do better than the other.)
  • The reduce and eliminate news articles caused changes in all of the measured attitudes. Readers were:
    • more likely to agree that purchasing animal products contributes to animal suffering.
    • more likely to disagree that animals raised for food have a good standard of living.
    • more likely to agree that raising animals for food contributes to environmental degradation.
    • more likely to agree that people would be healthier if they ate less meat.
    • more likely to perceive that Americans in general are reducing their meat consumption.
    • more likely to have discussions with friends and family about meat consumption and the treatment of animals raised for food.
  • There were no differences in how men and women responded to the articles.
  • There were no differences in how young and old participants reacted to the articles (participants ranged in age from 18 to 87).

“These findings suggest that the effect of reading a news article can be sustained for several weeks, which is quite remarkable,” said Bobbie Macdonald, the lead researcher of the study and co-founder of the Animal Welfare Action Lab (AWAL). “And one serving per month might seem like a small effect, but that’s equal to a 6.5% reduction in total meat servings.”

The study also demonstrates that a news article can significantly change attitudes towards animals and factory farming, which has important implications for advocates seeking to transform conventional animal agriculture.

Krystal Caldwell, a researcher of the study echoes this sentiment, but cautions advocates not to overextend the implications of the findings. "We can’t say for certain that we should allocate more resources to writing online content encouraging individuals to reduce their meat consumption," she said. “To make such a statement, we need more evidence about the effectiveness of other advocacy strategies such as video clips, books, and documentaries. This will allow us to compare the impact of those strategies to that of online news articles.”