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Study of the Day: Color-Coding, Rearranging Improves Healthy Choices

Written by on 20th January 2012 in MoveMe - Motivation & Habit Building with 2 Comments
Study of the Day: Color-Coding, Rearranging Improves Healthy Choices

What: Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found that color coding and rearranging foods around nutritional profile helps improve healthy choices in the hospital cafeteria.

How: From Science Daily: “In March 2010, color-coded labels were attached to all items in the main hospital cafeteria — green signifying the healthiest items, such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats; yellow indicating less healthy items, and red for those with little or no nutritional value. Signage in the cafeteria encouraged customers to consume green items often, yellow items less often, and to consider other choices for red items. All cafeteria cash registers were programmed to record and identify each purchased item as green, red or yellow; and additional nutritional information was made available in the cafeteria throughout the six-month study period.  In June 2010, displayed food items were rearranged according to principles of behavioral economics.  Cafeteria beverage refrigerators were arranged to place water, diet beverages and low-fat dairy products at eye level, while beverages with a red or yellow label were placed below eye level. The sandwich refrigerator was also arranged to put green items at eye level while red or yellow items were placed above and below. Racks of chips had yellow items at eye level and red items below, and additional baskets of bottled water were placed near stations where hot food was served.”

Results:  ”We found that labeling all foods and beverages with a simple red, yellow and green color scheme to indicate their relative healthiness led patrons to purchase more of the healthy and fewer of the unhealthy items,” says Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, of the MGH division of General Medicine.  We also found that moving items around to make the healthy items more convenient and visible led to further improvement in the nutritional quality of items purchased.”
Amazing right? There’s a lot to learn from the behavioral economics foray into healthy eating, and it’s one of the major influences in our methods. So what next?

Try this: Architect Your Own Choice: Take a look at your pantry do you see any unhealthy things in there?  Granted the best way to prevent eating unhealthy is to not buy them, but sometimes we can’t help it, we live with others or can’t live without our favorite junk foods. So try this, arrange your pantry to mindlessly encourage the choices you want to make, make it dead simple to choose the healthy stuff by putting them at eye level, easy to access and recognize.  Even better is put all unhealthy things in a separate place that makes it even more difficult to get to them, say a cupboard that’s really high if you are short, or really low and towards the back if you’re tall.
Like we mentioned in our behavior change & habit building post one of the best ways to encourage healthy habits is to shape your environement, so do a little bit of shaping and test to see how things go, and let us know whether this strategy works for you!

Photo via Yuya Tamai

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This Article has 2 Comments

  1. Interesting study! I know I have to keep some of our treats (like kettlecorn) in a brown paper bag in the back of the cupboard, otherwise the sight of it will make start feeling like I HAVE to have some. Lots to be said for a little planning to make healthy choices easier!

  2. Absolutely! Out of sight out of mind. If you like studies like these you should read Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating, chock full of interesting studies about food and the hidden persuaders that make use eat more of the bad and less of the good. Thanks for stopping by Crabby!


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