“Nudging” Healthy Eating

SH Southern Wisconsin 300x300
March 4, 2015
by Christine Rivera, RD, Community Health and Nutrition Manager

Can a simple sign in a food pantry encourage people to make healthier decisions? At Feeding America, we’re beginning to think that it can.

Our claim is based in the theory of nudges – a behavioral economic theory that argues positive reinforcement can lead people to make certain decisions. Recently, this theory has been applied more and more to nutrition education and – given the intersection between food insecurity and diet-related disease – the Community Health and Nutrition Team at Feeding America decided to try applying it to food pantry environments.

To test this theory and begin to collect evidence of its effectiveness, we began working with a few food banks across our network. We used signage, packaging and strategic product placement in food pantries to provide nutrition education and encourage people to choose more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy when visiting their local food pantry. These are all foods Feeding America works hard to promote and classify as “Foods to Encourage.”

We are excited about the potential of nudge interventions. As Feeding America network food banks continue to receive more donations from retail stores and the produce sector, nudge interventions will be a low-cost way to increase the distribution of Foods to Encourage. 

However, the question remains, what nudge interventions will be effective in the Feeding America network? Beginning this spring, we will conduct nudge research to answer that question. As part of the effort, the Feeding America Community Health and Nutrition team has partnered with Dr. David Just from Cornell University to help us explore the potential of nudge interventions and build the evidence for this nutrition education strategy in the Feeding America network.

Below is a testimony from one food bank regarding its success using the nudges nutrition education strategy:

After attending the workshop, “The Power of Nudges; Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice” at a Feeding America learning conference, Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin staff decided to share this material with all of our partner agencies at our regional meetings last fall. From there, it took on a life of its own! Many of our agencies have told us that they have made many easy, but significant, changes at their pantry which has resulted in making the healthy choice the easy choice for their clients.

One of our food pantry partners, MOM (Middleton Outreach Ministry) in Middleton, WI even took it a step further and is teaming up with a class from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Food Science. Students are coming out to the pantry in March as part of National Nutrition Month to prepare and provide recipe samples promoting healthy choices with food they are receiving from the food pantry. Furthermore, one of the students is doing an internship throughout the semester, focusing on how to best present Foods to Encourage. 

Here at Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, we look forward to continuing to promote and help our partner agencies focus on nudging their clients to the healthier choice.

Interested in learning more?

*Images provided by Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin

Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Nutrition

Stay Informed

Get email updates about what we're doing to help solve hunger and how you can help.