Reducing Animal Product Intake: Which Interventions Work?
Diets are difficult to change, and this is especially true when it comes to encouraging meat reduction. Even though many people are aware of the harms of animal agriculture, the demand for animal products continues to increase worldwide. Because of this, diet change research is an influential topic for those hoping to promote veg*nism. This meta-review explores previous research on diet change interventions to identify which ones have real effects on animal product consumption.
After a lengthy inclusion process, the researchers settled on 18 reviews. Five of them focused on specific settings while 13 addressed specific products. Twelve reviews explored interventions to decrease animal product consumption and six focused on increasing consumption. The interventions centered on personal, social, cultural, and environmental factors of consumption behaviors.
The strongest results suggested that providing information on the environmental impact of eating animal products most consistently led to reduced consumption (in 10 out of 11 studies). This intervention seems to be more influential for those unaware of the efficacy of diet change on climate and those who already care about the environmental impact of animal products. Providing health messaging proved to be effective in 8 out of 10 studies, but the authors note that this strategy is best targeted at people who are already health-conscious.
For individuals, goal setting and self-monitoring, such as setting digital notifications to monitor one’s diet, consistently produced positive results. There is limited evidence supporting the impact of animal welfare messages. Methods focused on animal suffering require care to prevent a backfiring effect, where consumers increase their meat intake following an intervention. However, “implicit” animal suffering reminders (such as showing cute photos of farmed animals) seem to be more promising. While individual lifestyle counseling showed some positive impacts, this type of intervention is difficult to scale and usually requires a lot of investment. Finally, financial incentives did not appear to make a difference to consumption.
Regarding social interventions, smaller pools of evidence showed that discussing dynamic social norms, such as the increasing popularity of plant-based diets, led to reduced consumption. Among the research that looked at increasing animal product consumption, successful interventions included giving consumers products to try. Using this insight for plant-based advocacy may prove fruitful (for example, by giving away samples of plant-based products).
Material interventions (changing one’s surroundings to influence decision-making), such as nudging, have proven effective in other diet change contexts. In this meta-review, they were found to impact meat consumption when they did not require consumers to actively participate in changing their beliefs or habits. Such tactics included introducing default meat-free menus and reducing meat portion sizes in food service. More research is needed to determine the potential of offering meat alternatives as an intervention.