Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nudging into healthy eating!

Excellent interactive graphic in the Times of the layout of a school cafeteria designed by Brian Wansink, David R Just, and Joe McKendry, that seeks to employ techniques from behavioural psychology to nudge children into more healthy eating. Their smart lunchroom is a classic exercise in structuring the environment and framing choices in a manner so as to get children to make more healthier eating decisions.

Here is their list of a dozen strategies, arrived at from experiments done in cafeterias at different schools, to coax children into more healthy eating.

1. Creation of a speedy "healthy express" checkout line at the entrance for students not buying desserts and chips, doubled the sales of healthy sandwiches.

2. A "cash for cookies" policy forbids the use of lunch tickets for desserts increased the up-take of fruits by 71% and reduced that of desserts by 55%.

3. Pulling the salad bar away from the wall and placing it in front of the checkout register nearly tripled the sales of salads.

4. When cafeteria workers asked each child, "Do you want a salad?", salad sales increased by a third.

5. Putting oranges and apples in a fruit bowl instead of a stainless steel pan, more than doubled the fruit sales.

6. Moving the chocolate milk behind the plain milk led students to buy more plain milk.

7. Decreasing the size of cereal bowls from 18 to 14 ounces, reduced the size of average cereal serving at breakfast by 24%.

8. Requiring the use of trays increased vegetable consumption - students without trays ate 21% less salads but no less ice-cream.

9. Keeping ice-cream in a freezer with closed and opaque top significantly reduced ice-cream sales.

10. Students offered a choice between carrots and celery were much more likely to eat their vegetables than students forced to take only carrots.

11. Giving healthy food choices more descriptive names, like "creamy corn" rather than simply "corn", increased their sales by 27%.

12. Placing nutritious food like broccoli at the start of the lunch-line, instead of the middle or end, increased the amounts students purchased by 10-15%.

Ironically, much the same techniques are employed by shopping malls, in exactly the opposite direction to lure shoppers into buying more expensive and often un-necessary products. Structuring the shopping environments and choices appropriately can enhance the shopping experience for the buyers. But, unlike in case of school lunch-rooms, the obvious conflict of interest between the shoppers and vendors (shop owner wants people to buy, irrespective of whether the people really need it or not, whereas the rational buyer wants to get value for money from their purchases) may prevent any such reconciliation.

Update 1 (19/2/2011)

Trayless food services in college canteens has resulted in as much as 25 to 30% less wasted food, according to a 2008 study of 25 campuses by food services provider Aramark.

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