The rise of processed foods in the past century has brought with it a rising tide of health concerns. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes have all been linked to diets high in fat, sodium, and sugar, leading many to seek out healthier alternatives. But making the switch from cookies and potato chips to broccoli and apples is easier said than done–so how can consumers start to make better food choices? A recent article from published in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, entitled “McHealthy: How Marketing Incentives Influence Healthy Food Choices” delves into how certain marketing incentives can help consumers break their unhealthy habits and make better choices. Authors Elisa K. Chan, Robert Kwortnik, and Brian Wansink specifically compare the efficacy of behavioral rewards versus financial discounts in motivating individuals to change their eating habits. The abstract for the article:
Food choices are often habitual, which can perpetuate unhealthy behaviors; that is, selection of foods high in sodium, saturated fat, and calories. This article extends previous research by examining how marketing incentives can encourage healthy food choices. Building on research examining marketing incentives, temporal goals, and habitual behavior, this research shows that certain incentives (behavioral rewards vs. financial discounts) affect individuals with healthy and less healthy eating habits differently. A field study conducted at a corporate cafeteria and three lab studies converge on a consistent finding: The effects of marketing incentives on healthy food choice are particularly prominent for people who have less healthy eating habits. Results showed that behavioral rewards generated a 28.5% (vs. 5.5%) increase in salad sales; behavioral rewards also led to 2 pounds more weight loss for individuals with less healthy eating habits. The research offers important implications for scholars, the food industry, consumers, governments, and policy makers.
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