Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Oregon
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Niemiec, R., Jones, M. S., Mertens, A., & Dillard, C. (2021). The effectiveness of COVID-related message framing on public beliefs and behaviors related to plant-based diets. Appetite, 165, 105293.


Shifting the public towards plant-based diets is critical for achieving environmental and public health outcomes. Increasingly news articles and organizations have begun using the saliency of the COVID-19 crisis to highlight the link between animal agriculture, pandemic risks, and other widespread public health threats. Yet, little is known about the effectiveness of this messaging strategy for motivating dietary change. We conducted a randomized trial with an online sample to examine the impact of: (1) a message that uses the saliency of the COVID-19 pandemic to highlight the risk of disease transmission from factory farms, and (2) a message that uses the saliency of the COVID-19 pandemic to highlight the threat to worker's health created by factory farms. We examine whether these messages are more effective at changing beliefs about and behavioral intentions towards plant-based eating, as compared to more traditional messages that highlight the environmental, personal health, or animal welfare implications of factory farmed meat consumption. We find that all messages differentially influenced beliefs about the various negative consequences of meat consumption. However, these altered beliefs did not differentially motivate changes in respondents' intentions to reduce meat consumption and choose plant-based alternatives. This was possibly due to the numerous other barriers to behavior change identified in qualitative survey responses, such as cost, taste, and social factors. We did find that messages that highlight the personal health benefits of reduced meat consumption were more effective at increasing public trust in the message deliverer. Our results suggest that highlighting personal health benefits in messaging and addressing the additional identified barriers to behavior change may be critical for building trust and shifting the public towards plant-based diets.