Making Healthy Foods more Convenient Increases the Intake of Healthy Foods
Making healthy foods more convenient can effectively nudge students to choose more of them and eat less of the unhealthy options
Increasing the availability and quantity of white milk makes selection more convenient and is associated with higher white milk consumption
Making fruit more attractive and convenient (placing it in a nice basket in a well-lit area, for example) can increase sales by 103%.
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Many grocery stores have a check-out line without candy for shoppers who can't resist the temptation of chewing gum, chocolate and salted nuts. What if cafeterias created a lunch line that included only healthy options so students were not tempted by pizza, French fries and ice cream?
To put this idea to the test, Cornell University's Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (home of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement) conducted a 16-week study in a high school cafeteria in upstate New York. Researchers Andrew Hanks, David Just, Laura Smith and Brian Wansink began the study by recording 8 weeks of purchase and consumption patterns in the cafeteria's normal configuration: 2 lunch lines with identical offerings. Then, one of the lines was converted into a 'healthy convenience line,' featuring a salad bar, a make-your-own sandwich bar, choices of hot vegetable side dishes, whole fruit, fruit parfaits and flavored milk. The other line remained the same as before, including both healthy and unhealthy menu options.
During a second 8-week period, the researchers collected sales data from both lines and recorded the amount of food actually eaten by students. The results of the 'cafeteria makeover' showed that small rearrangements to the layout can impact behavior. The first discovery was that sales of healthier foods increased by 18%, although actual consumption of these foods did not increase significantly. Still, experience selecting healthy foods leads to familiarity and could lead to greater future consumption. The second major discovery of the study was that the amount of unhealthy foods consumed by students decreased by 28%.
The message is clear: making healthy foods more convenient can effectively nudge students to choose more of them and eat less of the less healthy options!
For more about the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, visit: smarterlunchrooms.org
• Download paper from the SSRN (the Social Science Research Network)
Hanks, Andrew, David Just, Laura Smith, and Brian Wansink (2012). Healthy Convenience: Nudging Students Toward Healthier Choices in the Lunchroom. Journal of Public Health: 1-7. doi:10.1093/pubmed/fds003
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