Study in New York shows significant change in food choices
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Not long after reporting that bite-sized fruit pieces spur healthier eating at school, Cornell researchers have released new findings suggesting that pre-ordering food would also help improve the dietary habits of school kids.
The study builds on the conventional wisdom that shopping for food while hungry can lead to unhealthy choices. According to the scientists, hungry people are especially sensitive to sights and smells of foods that will satiate, but may lack in nutrient content.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers withthe Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs enabled students at two upstate New York elementary schools to pre-order their food electronically.
Fourteen teachers agreed to enroll their classes in a four-week study to test the effects of pre-ordering lunch. These classrooms were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: 1) stop preordering for the 3rd week and resume for the 4th week, 2) stop preordering for the 4th week, or 3) continue preordering for all four weeks.
A significant number of healthier choices were made when students pre-ordered lunch. When preordering was available, 29.4 percent of students ordered the healthier lunch entrée compared to 15.3 percent when no pre-ordering took place. When ordering in the lunch line, hunger mixed with the aromas and sight of unhealthy foods won out in spontaneous food decisions: healthy entrée selection was reduced by 48 percent and less healthy entrée choices increased by 21 percent..
The researchers think the information could help school nutritionists change the decision environment for lunch meals, nudging kids toward the healthier choices. Even though schools in this study used an electronic pre-ordering system, paper-based systems can be just as effective, and less costly.