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Trickery, Manipulation and $50: A Plan for School Cafeterias April 5, 2011

Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
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To combat the growing child obesity issue plaguing the U.S., chefs, consumer behavioral psychologists and school districts have come together to “trick” kids into making healthier decisions for school lunches.

Childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1980 and calorie counts in school lunches also rise. This only holds for the U.S., however. School lunches tend to reflect national traditional eating habits. A typical school lunch in the Philippines, for example, consists of boiled pork with a liver dipping sauce served with rice. In Japan, steamed vegetables, noodles, egg, bacon, watermelon, bread and milk is customary, while U.S. school lunches regularly include pizza, fried chicken nuggets and fried chicken patty on bun, and chocolate milk. The small, unopened package of baby carrots usually gets “recycled” for another day.

Various professionals have already tried to make headway where school lunches are concerned. Chef Jamie Oliver attempted to change our nations lunches single-handedly in U.S. towns ranked with highest childhood obesity rates. Unfortunately, despite his altruism and enthusiasm, this approach fails as people feel forced to change against their will.

What works? An alteration of the eating environment which encourages healthier eating under the idea that it is a choice. Brian Wansink, a Cornell University professor specializing in behavioral engineering, director of its Food and Brand Lab, and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think offers this example. “You want your kid to eat carrots? Then give her a choice between eating celery and carrots. If you just offer carrots, she’ll feel that you are forcing a vegetable on her. If you give her carrots and celery, she’ll pick carrots and think it was her idea.”

“People say, ‘You are tricking people, that’s manipulative!’” he says. “But the truth is any eating environment is manipulative in that it will lead you to eat a certain way. So let’s create environments that nudge people to do the right thing.”

In his Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative, he guarantees an improvement in eating behaviors with choice and presentation. For less than $50, schools can implement just two changes that will increase healthier choices. One is making fruit visible. “Take it out of the nasty steamer pan under glass and put in a nice bowl that you buy at a rummage sale or TJMaxx and put it in a nicely lit place at the end of the line [not the middle or the beginning].  That doubles the amount of fruit people take, resulting in a 70% increase.  Second, with vegetables, we find that simply putting a little menu card calling something “creamy corn” versus “corn,” or “crunchy carrots” versus “carrots” [and placing it at the beginning of the line] will lead to a 28 percent increase in kids taking vegetables.”

Over 1,400 schools have expressed interest in these changes. But he is measuring success by the schools who make these two changes and report sales to him. He’s aiming for 10,000.

In this video, Dr. Wansink explains subconscious patterns which generally cause us to eat more than we think.  

Trickery works wonders at home too, creating healthier and happier family members. If you happen to be the “chef,” seeing how you can trick your diners into making better choices is a fun challenge. If you’re a regular household diner, you can look forward to the variety and attractive presentation you’ll be receiving.

On this topic:

mindlesseating.org

USDA Personal Food Planner

USDA Funds Research on Improving Child Nutrition Programs Through Behavioral Economics

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Comments»

1. Is The Food Pyramid Killing Us? « Amy Croan MPH - May 21, 2012

[...] Trickery, Manipulation and $50: A Plan for School Cafeterias [...]


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