Nudging, or the strategic placement of items, has been a staple of the food service and retail sectors for a long time. In supermarkets, for example, shelf space at eye-level is more valuable then way up or way down, because shoppers will see it and reach for it most easily. That’s why, for example, cereals geared towards kids are placed on lower shelves (at their eye-level), while those geared towards adults are found on higher shelves.
But what if someone were to bring this thinking to making people eat healthier? One study, led by the University of Copenhagen, researched whether nudging could be used to promote healthy products and healthier eating, albeit in small increments.
In a review of 18 studies, a whopping 16 of them showed that manipulating the presentation or order of food could lead to healthier eating habits.
The strategy, as outlined by researcher Federico J. A. Perez-Cueto, is rather simple: “a way ahead contributing to achieve public health goals through the food service sector is e.g. by making changes in the placement of the products we want to promote, like vegetables by putting them first in line. Likewise, [e.g.] by making it a little bit more difficult to reach the products that should be consumed with moderation or that should be strictly limited like some products of animal origin or highly processed foods.”
Future studies would need to quantify how much positional changes affect the purchasing and eating habits of consumers, the researchers stressed. They also stressed the need for the food industry to be an active participant in the change: Perez-Cueto noted that businesses and consumers together “will have to think about whether the focus is just to keep business as usual—or if it is also about keeping the population healthy, and preserving the environment.”