Yes you know that we all eat too much sugar. Yes you know that you should eat low GI foods for slower energy release and that you should really put that chocolate bar down and reach for the nuts.
But you have a meeting in 15 minutes, you don’t have any nuts and the vending machine is right there.
Sometimes knowledge isn’t the problem, it’s the practicalities. This is why research in the science behind ‘nudging’ or guiding behaviour has exploded in recent years (e.g. ).
An example of this involves moving snacks from arm reach to just out of arm reach. One group of researchers actually tested this. They placed a bowl of chocolate M&Ms either 20cm, 70cm or 140cm away from people and then measured how many M&Ms they ate. The further the M&Ms were from people, the less they ate . That is despite the fact that it isn’t a huge effort to reach 140cm for something that you want.
Most of our behaviour is governed by unconscious processes or habits. We reach for the M&Ms because they are there. We may not even think about it, we may reach for them while talking to someone just to have something to do. Before we know it we’ve eaten a family-size pack.
Another study found that when a cafeteria moved the crisps away from healthy lunch food people were far less likely to buy crisps .
In a hospital cafeteria researchers found that labelling some foods as unhealthy and placing those below eye level reduced the number of people eating them .
A recent summary of all of the research in this area so far concluded that these types of changes to the position or availability of food can make a difference to people’s choice of foods .
Some people might argue that they don’t like the implications of an organisation or their workplace deciding on their behaviour. The reality is though that most of us live relatively sedentary lives with high sugar and high fat diets. Most of us, if we were asked, would probably say that we would like to be healthier. If you were told that there was a way for you to eat healthier without conscious effort or change would you do it? Probably.
Someone has to make a decision about where food is placed in a cafeteria. Most of the time it is decided by the brand or by the retailer. If you want to encourage yourself and your colleagues to lead a healthier lifestyle why not take back control by deciding on the positioning yourselves and nudge you and your colleagues into a healthier diet in the workplace.
- Thaler, R. & Sunstein, C. (2008). Nudget: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. Yale University Press.
- Maas J, de Ridder DT, de Vet E, et al. (2012) Do distant foods decrease intake? The effect of food accessibility on consumption. Psychological Health 27, Suppl. 2, 59–73.
- Meiselman HL, Hedderley D, Staddon SL, et al. (1994) Effect of effort on meal selection and meal acceptability in a student cafeteria. Appetite 23, 43–55.
- Levy DE, Riis J, Sonnenberg LM, et al. (2012) Food choices of minority and low-income employees: a cafeteria intervention. American Journal of Preventative Medicine 43, 240–248.
- Bucher, T., Collins, C., Rollo, M. E., McCaffrey, T. A., De Vlieger, N., Van der Bend, D., . . . Perez-Cueto, F. J. (2016). Nudging consumers towards healthier choices: a systematic review of positional influences on food choice. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(12), 2252-2263.