Thursday, February 23, 2012

Healthy choices

I have a guest writer today - Allison Brooks from Florida :)

Color Coding Food:

Easy way to develop healthy eating habits

When presented with a huge array of food, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the variety. For someone who is trying to eat healthy, this can be even more frustrating. Who has time to look at the back of every nutrition label to make the healthiest choice, especially when time is short?

Massachusetts General Hospital may have found the solution. They conducted a study recently, with the intent of determining whether patrons of their cafeteria, when advised of the healthiest choices, would choose those items. The method of identifying healthier choices and ranking them was simple: color-coded labels. Green labels indicated the healthiest choices, yellow labels indicated foods that were less healthy and red labels indicated foods with little nutritional value.

The experiment began in March 2010 and ran in two phases. During the first phase, the labels were assigned to the different foods found in the cafeteria. Signs were placed in the cafeteria to advise patrons of their choices, explained the meaning of the different color coding on the labels and encouraged customers to make healthier choices. The registers were programmed to identify the foods by their codes so that data could be tracked.

During the second phase, the products available were rearranged according to behavioral marketing information. For example, healthier choices were placed at eye-level, where people are more likely to shop, according to marketing research. This phase primarily focused on the foods that people tend to grab when they are in a hurry, such as pre-made sandwiches, beverages and chips.

The researchers found that sales of the foods with green labels increased significantly, while sales of products with red labels languished. The numbers were compared to sales in the other on-campus cafeterias where products were neither labeled nor rearranged. The changes in the cafeteria where food was labeled were dramatic compared to the other cafeterias.

The researchers credit the success of the program primarily to its simplicity. With almost no effort at all, consumers were able to easily identify their healthiest choices and, in fact, were led to make the healthier choice. The cafeteria labeling system at MGH is going to remain in place, and the hospital actually extended the program to the other cafeterias in the hospital system.  

Many cancer facilities are slowly adopting this color-coding system to push healthier eating during treatment. Since healthier foods and foods loaded with phytochemicals promote better survivability, patients with aggressive cancer like pancreatic or mesothelioma cancer, need to eat healthier. And since a mesothelioma life expectancy could only be four months eating healthy and strong treatments need to be priority.

The doctor who led the study, Anne Thorndike, also pointed out that the changes were easy to make and could be applied to nearly any quick-service food environment.