Pre-ordering lunch increases healthier choices among students

Washington: Researchers at the Cornell Centre for Behavioural Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN Centre) have found that pre-ordering lunch would nudge students to make healthier choices.

In two upstate New York elementary schools, students use an electronic pre-ordering system to order lunch in the morning.

Fourteen teachers agreed to enrol their classes in a four-week study to test the effects of pre-ordering lunch.

These classrooms were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions - 1) stop pre-ordering for the 3rd week and resume for the 4th week, 2) stop pre-ordering for the 4th week, or 3) continue pre-ordering for all four weeks.

A significant number of healthier choices were made when students pre-ordered lunch.

When pre-ordering was available, 29.4 percent of students ordered the healthier lunch entree compared to 15.3 percent when no pre-ordering took place.

When ordering in the lunch line, hunger mixed with the aromas and sight of unhealthy foods won out in spontaneous food decisions: healthy entree selection was reduced by 48 percent and less healthy entree choices increased by 21 percent.

Simply by changing the decision environment, students were nudged to select healthier entrees.