Review sheds light on most effective behavior change method

The most effective "nudge" to bolster healthy eating focuses on changing peoples' behavior, according to a new study published in the journal Marketing Science.

Researchers looked at 96 studies that tested various methods focusing on improving food choices and eating habits. They lumped the different methods into seven categories:

  1. Descriptive nutritional labeling provides calorie counts and other nutritional information on food packages or menus;
  2. Evaluative nutritional labeling uses pictures or graphics to help people see which choices are best
  3. Visibility enhancements change the placements of healthy foods so people notice them
  4. Hedonic enhancements make healthy selections more appealing in product descriptions
  5. Healthy eating calls encourage people to make better choices using signage or stickers
  6. Convenience enhancements make it easier to make good choices by having vegetables pre-cut or easy to grab and go
  7. Size enhancements change the portions of meals so there are more healthy foods and less unhealthy foods

Researchers say behavioral-oriented nudges are most successful and, more specifically, reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods seems to be the best way to improve eating habits. Choosing the best strategy can illicit healthy eating results that are six-times more effective than they were previously, according to Romain Cadario, PhD, lead author of the review.

"These different categories appeal to people in different ways,” said Cadario. “Some appeal to people's voice of reason or judgment, others play on their emotions, and some focus directly on changing behavior. By choosing the best strategy you can see results that are more effective."