Hospitals might be able to coax cafeteria customers to buy healthier food by adjusting item displays to have traffic light-style green, yellow and red labels based on their level of nutrition, new research suggests.
"Our current results show that the significant changes in the purchase
patterns... did not fade away as cafeteria patrons became used to them,"
study lead author Dr Anne Thorndike, of the division of general medicine at
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a hospital news release.
"This is good evidence that these changes in healthy choices persist over
As part of the study, labels – green, yellow or red – appeared on all
foods in the main hospital cafeteria. Fruits, vegetables and lean sources of
protein got green labels, while red ones appeared on junk food.
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Drawing attention of customers
The cafeteria also underwent a redesign to display healthier food products
in locations – such as at eye level – that were more likely to draw the
attention of customers.
The study showed that the changes appeared to produce more purchases of
healthy items and fewer of unhealthy items – especially beverages.
Green-labelled items sold at a 12 percent higher rate compared to before the
programme, and sales of red-labelled items dropped by 20 percent during the
two-year study. Sales of the unhealthiest beverages fell by 39 percent.
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"These findings are the most important of our research thus far because
they show a food-labelling and product-placement intervention can promote
healthy choices that persist over the long term, with no evidence of 'label
fatigue'," said Thorndike, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard
"The next steps will be to develop even more effective ways to promote
healthy choices through the food-service environment and translate these
strategies to other worksite, institutional or retail settings," she said.
The study was published in the current issue of the American Journal of
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