Some of these choices require rational conscious thinking, but many food choices are almost automatic. They are driven by previous experiences and habits, for example when choosing the brand of cheese that you always choose. They can also be driven by the environment: placement of more expensive or profitable foods on eye-height is an old marketing trick, as is using the smell of fresh bread to entice people to buy more.
These environmental influences have received a lot of attention lately as a way to help people to make healthier food choices. This is necessary, because many people struggle to eat enough vegetables, reduce their salt intake, and eat a suitable portion of food. An unhealthy diet and overconsumption over a longer time can make people sick: it can lead to an increased risk of different cancers, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases.
Research in other countries has shown that nudges can help people to make healthier choices, for example in school or hospital cafeterias. Putting fruit in a more attractive bowl, making whole grain bread into a funny shape, or making the unhealthy options just a little bit harder to reach, are some of the modifications that proved helpful for a healthier choice. People make the healthier choice because it is easier, but they are not limited in their options: they can still pick an unhealthy option if they want to. They are just helped along a bit by the environment.
In Norway, previous nudging studies have focused mostly on sustainability, but not on health. The new project ‘Små dytt for bedre helse’ (a small nudge towards better health) will focus on testing how nudges can affect healthy choices in a Norwegian setting. The two-year project is a collaboration between Landsforeningen for hjerte- og lungesyke (LHL), Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO), Animalia, and the Norwegian University for Life Sciences (NMBU), and was funded by Extrastiftelsen.
The project includes a nudging study in the LHL-hospital Feiring, to test how nudges focused on reducing salt intake, increasing vegetable intake, and reducing portion size influence participants in the hospital’s four week heart-rehabilitation program. The study looks at choices during the program, but also how it affects the participants 6 weeks and 6 months after their participation.
While this study may seem specific for this particular cafeteria, it is likely that many of the nudges would also work in other settings. This could be another hospital cafeteria, but also cafeterias at schools or at a workplace. The aim of this project is therefore not only to test if the nudges help people to eat healthier, but also to communicate how such nudges could be implemented in other settings.
This article was partly based on a Norwegian article by Hilde Helgesen at NIBIO: Vennlige dytt skal få deg til å velge sunnere mat