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Accentuate the positive when it comes to nutrition education

June 08, 2015

ITHACA, N.Y. - If you want people to choose healthier foods, emphasize the positive, says a new Cornell University study.

Published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the Cornell Food and Brand Lab study showed that when it comes to nutrition education, dos work a lot better than don'ts. This is especially important when determining policies that encourage healthy eating.

Media note: A short video explaining the research, as well as an informational graphic and additional details about this research can be found at, http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/OP/Hidden_Costs

The researchers - David Just, behavioral economists in the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and Andrew Hanks, Ohio State University - reviewed existing literature on the consequences of past public policies on nutrition to form suggestions to improve future regulations and found the most successful public policies are those that are framed positively and support choice.

"It's clear that people value freedom of choice," said Just. "When policies seem to encourage good choices, rather than limit bad ones, we see a much more positive response."

In one study, 173 adults who were told to select various meals for lunch reacted differently depending on how the price of each item was proposed. When changes in the price were framed as a tax on unhealthy items, more people chose the unhealthy foods. However, when the change was framed as a price discount for healthy foods, demand for healthy items went up. This shows that rebelling against noxious policies is an important driver of consumer demand and cannot be ignored in policy recommendations.

"Many decisions that we make are not totally rational," said Just. "When trying to impose any sort of change, it is important to try and empathize with our audience and to work with, rather than against, the targets of that policy."
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Cornell University

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