Obesity, specially among children, is one of the most pressing health issues on western society. Improving eating habits in school has been the goal of numerous research programs that build on behavioral economics principles. The idea behind these programas is to develop simple nudges that guide (rather than force) people’s behavior towards the desired outcome without cohercing them to act in a manner they don’t want to. Simple tweaks on the environment/context are able to change behaviors without limiting a person ability to make a free choice between any given options.
One of the problems that these programs were called to study, was how to improve fruit consumption on a given school cafetaria. An analysis of the cafetaria display showed that the fruits were placed on a metal bin next to a bin of packaged snacks. So when students reached the point where the fruits were placed they had to make a choice between a more healthy but less appealing food, and the colorful and calorie rich and ego boosting snacks. No wonder fruits lost most of the battles.
The solution: remove the snacks to other location (one that’s not so easy on the eye) and place the fruits on colorful bowls, improving its presentation. Simple and inexpensive. With the introduction of this new display fruit consumption on the school cafetaria improved 104%.
While this kind of nudges won’t solve any major issue, even regarding childhood obesity, they may become powerful weapons that can help people make better choices and improve the quality of their lives.