Are You A Food Nugger?

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Can we change our behavior when it comes to food choices if the food is presented in a canteen in a different order, or by making it more difficult for us to reach the less healthy food? Some existing research in this area concludes this is possible. Manipulation of food product order or proximity can influence our food choice and healthy food nudging seems promising. They included 18 studies in the review and 16 of them showed nudging made a positive impact.

The review confirmed that there are few works available that deal with nudging healthier food choices by changes in the position of the food offers. Changing the organization of buffets, supermarkets and other environments where people come across food can contribute to people eating healthier, according to Associate Professor Federico J.A. Perez-Cueto from the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Choice architecture of “nudging” refers to strategic changes in the environment that are anticipated to alter our behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. The scientific evidence of nudging towards healthier eating has been scarce until now.

Retail sector and food service operators have been using this principle of nudging to push its products to the consumer by placing specific products at adults eye level and other products are left at children’s eye level. And don’t we all know how tempting some things are to our children if they see it. It is still questionable if we can also use this simple and low-cost method to move people’s food behavior in a more healthy direction or to facilitate the choice of healthier options. Can we walk by those chocolate bars to reach the fruit?

Even a small move towards healthier eating has an impact on the health and life expectancy of our population. We can start by eating more vegetables, which will help in the long run. Small changes in our eating habits can grow and perhaps eliminate the less healthy choices.

The hot topic of food nudging in canteens will be a big intervention aimed at promoting healthy eating habits in the future. Some activity towards this change is going to be the big challenge for the next couple of years. Not only are they focusing on keeping business as usual but also keeping the population healthy while preserving the environment. Nudging is but one tool in the box to promote healthy choices in eating. Convincing people to eat enough vegetables might promote policies, recommendations, voluntary agreements, information campaigns and so on, but nudging can contribute substantially. There is a need for high-quality studies that quantify the magnitude of positional effects on food choice in conjunction with measuring the impact on food intake for the longer term.

– Dr Fredda Branyon

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