Subtle hints may help nudge people toward making healthier food choices at the grocery store, new findings suggest.
According to Dutch researchers from Utrecht University, obese people heading into a store who were given a recipe flyer with a few health-related words spent less than one-third the amount on unhealthy snacks as those given the same flyer with unrelated wording.
And the flyer had an effect even if people weren't thinking about it as they shopped.
Laboratory studies have shown such "priming" with subtle messages can change behavior even without people noticing, and the current findings demonstrate that strategy can work in the real world.
Little diet reminders can make it much easier to resist food temptations in stores, restaurants, and most likely also at home, the researchers say.
To see if health-focused cues might help people make healthier choices, the research team designed two versions of a recipe flyer. One included words such as "healthy" and "good for your figure" and noted the calorie content of the dish; the other had non-health-related wording such as, "try it out" and "new recipe."
The researchers handed the flyers out to shoppers on their way into a grocery store, and then looked at the shoppers' receipts to see what they'd bought.
Ninety-nine shoppers, including 42 overweight and obese people and 57 normal-weight people, participated.
Overweight participants who received the health-prime flyer spent about $1.40 on unhealthy snacks, including cookies, candy and chips, while those given the comparison flyer spent about $4.80.
However, there was no difference in the amount of money normal-weight people spent on those snacks based on which flyer they received.
Thirty of the study participants said they paid no attention at all to the flyer, and there was no association for these individuals between which flyer they received and how much they spent on snacks. But for overweight people who did pay some attention when given the flyer, receiving the health prime reduced their snack spending regardless of whether they reported thinking about the flyer as they shopped.
Primes should not be "patronizing," the researchers said, because that can make people feel as if they're being told what to do.
Source: International Journal of Obesity, online August 20, 2013.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.