Barriers, Not Calories, Influence Eating Habits

Informing consumers of the calorific value of their food options doesn’t change their ordering/eating habits (previously), but removing barriers and making the healthier options easy to order does.

That’s the conclusion from Kevin Volpp’s lecture, Using Behavioral Economics to Improve Health Behaviors’.

Recent studies […] have indicated that providing nutritional information at restaurants and recommending a calorie intake have shown to be ineffective at reducing consumption. However, incentivizing convenience of ordering low calorie food, by clustering these options together at the top of the menu, seems to have a significant impact. This indicates that traditional measures of informational provision are not always sufficient to motivate changes in unhealthy behavior.

And on removing seemingly inconsequential barriers to action:

One cafeteria tested [how much effort people will go to to eat ice cream] by leaving the lid of an ice cream cooler closed on some days and open on other days.

The ice cream cooler was in the exact same location, and people could always see the ice cream.  All that varied was whether they had to go through the effort of opening the lid in order to get it.  Even that was too much work for many people.  If the lid was closed, only 14% of the diners decided it was worth the modest effort to open it.  If the lid was open, 30% decided it was ice cream time.

Barriers and incentives are more powerful than good intentions. Kevin Volpp’s three big questions:

  • Are there built-in default benefits to be had?
  • In what ways can we make information provision more precise?
  • How can we shape incentives to get people to behave in a [desired] manner?

via Nudge (1, 2)