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Healthy Convenience: Nudging Students Toward Healthier Choices in the Lunchroom

Hanks, Andrew, David Just, Laura Smith, and Brian Wansink (2012). Healthy Convenience: Nudging Students Toward Healthier Choices in the LunchroomJournal of Public Health: 1-7. doi:10.1093/pubmed/fds003

Convenience and taste are the two greatest determinants of food choice. Most healthy foods are less convenient than their unhealthy counterparts. However, there is reason to suspect that an environmental change such as making healthier foods more convenient would cause an individual to select and eat more healthy foods.

In this experiment, we took over a high school cafeteria for 16 weeks. During the first 8 weeks (control period) we recorded purchase and consumption patterns in the cafeteria normal configuration: two lunch lines that both offered the same food options. Then, during the next 8 weeks, one of the lines was converted into a healthy convenience line featuring: a salad bar, a make-your-own sandwich bar, hot vegetable side dishes, whole fruit, fruit parfaits, and flavored milk. The other line remained the same as before, including healthy and less healthy options. We 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 in the cafeteria can have a positive impact on students eating 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%. Clearly, making healthy foods more convenient constitutes and effective way of getting children to choose more of the healthy foods and decrease their consumption of the less healthy options.