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'Nudging' can help improve dietary selections, study says

Making healthier food selections more visible and easier to find improves the chance people will choose them.

By Stephen Feller
Product positioning in stores, and the order of foods in buffets, has a significant effect on consumers choices, which researchers say means making healthier options among the first seen makes them more likely to be purchased. Photo by hxdbzxy/Shutterstock
Product positioning in stores, and the order of foods in buffets, has a significant effect on consumers choices, which researchers say means making healthier options among the first seen makes them more likely to be purchased. Photo by hxdbzxy/Shutterstock

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, July 13 (UPI) -- Marketers learned long ago that placing products in certain locations of stores makes people more likely to choose them. New research in Denmark suggests this idea could work to motivate people to improve their diets.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen found in a review of studies that making healthier foods more visible -- like making them among the first products seen in a grocery store or at a buffet -- can "nudge" consumers to make choices more beneficial to their health.

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While they note there is a not a lot of research in the area, the studies that have been conducted show the nudging effect works with everybody from children at school to adults in the supermarket.

They add that, more importantly, even a small shift in food buying habits can have benefits to consumers' health.

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"The food service operators and the retail sector have been using the principles of nudging to push its products to the consumers -- for example, placing specific products at adult's eye level, while other products are left at children's eye level," Federico Perez-Cueto, an associate professor of food science at the University of Copenhagen, said in a press release. "The question is whether we can also use this simple and low-cost method to move people's food behaviour in a more healthy direction, or to facilitate the choice of healthier options."

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For the study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers reviewed 18 studies, finding that 16 showed nudging by way of manipulating food product order or proximity influences food choice and boosting the appearance of healthy foods was effective at exerting influence.

"The review confirmed our expectation that there are very few scientific works available which deal with nudging healthier food choices by changes in the position of the food offers," Perez-Cueto said. "We also corroborated that changing the organization of buffets, supermarkets and the other environments where people come across food can contribute to people eating more healthily."

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