224718 Relative Influence of Calorie Labeling and Behavioral Economic Nudges in Altering Fast Food Choice

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 : 9:10 AM - 9:30 AM

Janet Schwartz, PhD , The Fuqua School of Business, Duke Univeristy, Durham, NC
Jason Riis, PhD , Assistant Professor of Business Administration, Harvard University, Boston, MA
Brian Elbel, PhD, MPH , NYU School of Medicine and NYU Wagner School of Public Service, New York University, New York, NY
Dan Ariely, PhD , The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, Durham, NC
Introduction: A recent popular tool to influence obesity is calorie labeling. However, research from behavioral economics has shown that relatively small and simple changes to the environment can “nudge” people in the right direction and often achieve significant results. Here, we directly test the relative influence of calorie labeling vs. behavioral nudging to reduce calorie consumption in a fast food restaurant.

Methods: Two field experiments were conducted at an Asian-style fast food restaurant located on a southeastern private university campus. We tested the relative influence of calorie labeling and a behavioral “nudge” presented verbally by restaurant staff ( “would you like to cut over 200 calories from your meal” by taking a half-portion of the side dish).(N=1,131)

Results: Thirty percent of university/hospital staff and 21% of college students accepted the nudge before labeling was introduced, reducing the total food calories purchased by 99 and 45 calories, respectively (p<.05). The labeling manipulation, in contrast, did not lead to a change in total calories purchased. The labeling by nudge interaction for total calories purchased was marginally significant (p<09) such that calorie savings from the nudge were smaller in the presence of labeling. Additionally, acceptance of the nudge offer was lower in the presence of labeling (21% versus 13%, p<.05).

Conclusions: While labeling did not alter food choice, a behavioral economics nudge did. Other policies and interventions could be improved by utilizing the findings of behavioral economics.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Describe the relative effectiveness of calorie labeling versus solutions inspired from behavioral economics in altering food choice and obesity. Explain what the field of behavioral economics consists of and how its finding could be important tools in altering food choice and obesity.

Keywords: Obesity, Public Policy

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present based on my original research in this topic, as well as my past research, funding and publications in this and similar areas.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.