Should shops hide fruit inbetween chocolate bars on their aisles? Study reveals bizarre method ‘could tempt people into eating healthier’
- People were twice as likely to buy healthy foods that were among junk food
- Scientists believe people are drawn to healthy food because it ‘stands out’
- They hope a change in aisle layouts could have a ‘profound impact’ on obesity
Hiding fruit inbetween chocolate bars could tempt shoppers into making healthier purchases, researchers believe.
Scientists have yet to test the concept of completely changing how aisles are laid out – but said it could have a ‘profound impact’.
People are drawn to healthy food when it surrounded by treats because it ‘stands out’, say experts at Duke University, North Carolina.
Shoppers were twice as likely to buy healthy foods when they are placed with a biscuit or chocolate bar, a study has found.
With obesity rates climbing across the planet because of poor diets, the unusual method could help people make better choices.
Hiding fruit inbetween chocolate bars could tempt shoppers into making healthier purchases, researchers at Duke University believe
Professor Scott Huettel, study co-author, said: ‘When people choose foods, they don’t simply reach into their memory and pick the most-preferred food.
‘Instead, how much we prefer something actually depends on what other options are available.’
The researchers tested the idea with 79 young adults from the Durham-Chapel Hill area, who they asked to fast for four hours beforehand.
They arrived hungry, and were asked to pick between an indulgent or healthy, but less tasty, product.
When given a simple one-to-one choice between tinned salmon and Oreo biscuits, for instance, nearly all the volunteers preferred the latter.
HOW THE GOVERNMENT IS TRYING TO STOP OBESITY
Proposed plans to restrict the number of calories in pizzas, pies and ready meals were last year revealed as part of drastic Government moves to try and cut down on obesity.
A tax on added sugar in drinks came into force in April, requiring companies to hand over more of the money they make from drinks which contain more than 5g of sugar per 100ml of liquid.
As a result, many soft drinks have had their recipes changed in order to avoid paying the tax and putting prices up. Sugary drinks are the biggest single source of sugar for children and teenagers.
The Government is also considering making it compulsory for all restaurants and fast food outlets to display the number of calories in each meal on their menu.
Some food outlets already do this but there can be unexpected numbers of calories in popular dishes, and the Government is consulting on the plans before a decision is due in spring.
In March this year, Public Health England warned Brits to crack down on the number of calories they’re eating, advising people to consume no more than 1,600 per day.
The watchdog says adults shouldn’t eat any more than 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for lunch and 600 for dinner – this would allow for some snacks, experts said.
Examples of 600-calorie meals include a tuna pasta salad and a small cereal bar, a chicken salad sandwich and a pack of crisps, or half a pepperoni pizza with a quarter of a garlic baguette and a banana.
But when they saw salmon paired with Oreos, or Oreos paired with Snickers, they were twice as likely to reach for the former.
One possible explanation involves attention. The healthy item – salmon – was the different item among the choices, so it stood out visually.
Eye movement tracking found subjects spent more time looking at salmon and other healthy foods when they were surrounded by indulgent treats.
‘If you see one healthy food and one unhealthy food, most people will choose the indulgent food,’ Professor Huettel said. ‘But if you add more unhealthy foods, it seems, suddenly the healthy food stands out.’
Mixing sugary and fatty foods with healthy ones could help people make better choices, the authors said in the journal Psychological Science.
Dr Nicolette Sullivan, study co-author said: ‘When people see a wall of cabbage and broccoli, that may not encourage people to choose it.
‘Right now, food items are very segregated: here’s the produce, here are the candy bars. Yet maybe if we put something healthy in the middle of the snack food section, perhaps that might encourage people to choose it.’
Obesity rates are climbing across the world – with Britons leading the way.
Britons are the fattest in Western Europe, with almost two in three adults overweight and more than a quarter obese.
Two of every five adults struggle with obesity in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Simply adding healthy choices, such as by adding a small produce section to a corner store, typically hasn’t worked, Dr Sullivan said.
She described ‘food deserts’ where junk food and fast food abound while fresh produce and healthy protein sources are scarce – typically in the US.
‘Individuals struggle with making healthy choices,’ Dr Sullivan said. ‘If we can change the set of foods people are choosing between, people may make healthier choices. And that could have a profound impact.’