Making Health the Default

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A recent article featured in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation News Digest on Childhood Obesity highlights a simple strategy that can be implemented in restaurants and other venues to improve the food environment.

The innovative new strategy is to change the offerings on children’s menus to highlight the healthier options. One way to do this is to set the default side options for children’s meals to healthier items. The default refers to the items that come with a combination meal if you do not explicitly ask for certain items. Traditionally, the default side options for combination meals have been soda and french fries. Healthier options are items that are advertised as alternatives to the defaults, such as apple slices, carrot sticks,100% fruit juices, low-fat milk, or water.

Shifting the restaurant food environment in this way-making lower-calorie beverage options and fresh fruits and vegetables the norm-may help to improve children’s nutrition when eating away from home. This is significant, as the number of meals children eat away from home has been increasing in recent years. Offering healthier items as the default also changes the decision-making environment by facilitating healthy choices rather than requiring people to alter their own behavior.

This type of strategy has been dubbed “libertarian paternalism” by University of Chicago professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their recent book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. A “nudge” is designed to steer individuals towards a certain behavior without taking away their freedom of choice. Read More >

Meatless Monday Serves as Model for New Health Behavior Change Campaigns

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) recognizes that one important way to affect change in the food system is to find ways to improve consumer purchasing and eating behaviors. The Meatless Monday campaign, which CLF endorsed seven years ago, encourages Americans to take control of their health by refraining from eating meat products one day a week. Meats like beef are more likely to contain saturated fats than most non-meat food sources. By cutting out high sources of saturated fats one day a week, Americans can help meet the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 goal of reducing saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of calories consumed each day. Meatless Monday has the potential to not only improve the populations’ health, but could also reduce unsustainable levels of demand for meat products, particularly industrially-produced meat, which use huge amounts of valuable natural resources and pose significant public health and environmental risks.

On the health behavior change side, the “Monday” model has great potential to serve as an effective communications tool to bolster virtually any long-term campaign.  The model provides health promotion communicators 52 times a year to hammer home a message, convey reinforcements, reminders, and prompts. Likewise, it also gives a person trying to improve her/his own health behaviors 52 times a year to restart their commitment or behavior change if they fall off the wagon. Read More >