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)