An 18-month study by academics from Leeds Beckett University concluded that students were more than twice as likely to choose food items promoted using “behavioural nudge tactics”.
The research, led by Dr Hannah Ensaff, a research fellow in nutrition at Leeds Beckett, saw a number of complementary changes made to the way healthy food was packaged and presented in the canteen of a Yorkshire secondary school over a six-week period.
The strategies used included subtle changes to the way that food was presented and packaged, such as repositioning promoted foods, using disposable pots and trays to serve meals rather than dinner plates, daily posters, window stickers and stickers with smiley faces promoting the designated healthy food options.
As well as being two and a half times more likely to select the healthier foods, researchers also found that with the changes, students were more than three times as likely to choose a fruit, vegetable or salad item.
Dr Ensaff said: “Adolescents’ diet in the UK is high in saturated fat and sugar, along with low fruit and vegetable consumption. These choices, typified by low intake of plant-based foods, are mirrored in school canteens, where students commonly bypass freshly prepared nutrient-rich meals.
“School canteens in UK secondary schools are often time-pressured environments – rendering food choice even more susceptible to automatic decision-making. During our study we found that simple changes to the way food was presented and packaged in the school canteen had a significant effect on students’ selections towards more favourable food options.
“Results from our research have shown that ‘nudge’ strategies, which don’t remove the freedom to choose can be really effective in promoting better food choices and changing behaviour.”
The study, which has been published in Nutrients journal, was funded by the Alpro Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that supports the development of scientific knowledge about plant-based healthy foods.
The study, Food Choice Architecture: An intervention in a secondary school and its impact on students’ plant-based food choices, is freely available at www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/7/6/4426/htm
For a leaflet outlining how schools can implement similar strategies, go to http://bit.ly/1eXv8Mp