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Visual prompts may help shoppers choose healthier foods: Pilot study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas+


Visual prompts may help shoppers choose healthier foods: Pilot study

Shoppers are more likely to buy healthy foods if they are given strong visual prompts in-store, according to a new study.

The Healthier Choices Pilot programme placed life-sized cut outs of doctors and nurses in a UK supermarket’s vegetable section, along with ‘let’s shop healthier’ slogans, floor stickers at the fish counter, and free reusable shopping bags for those who bought fruit and vegetables.

At the end of the 15-week trial period, sales of fresh fruit had risen 20% and sales of frozen fruit were up by nearly 30%, the researchers found.

The study was led by Damian Edwards, behavioural advisor to the National Obesity Forum. The aim was to find a low-cost way of promoting healthier food choices through a technique known as ‘priming’ – the idea that certain cues may affect people’s choices when encountered in a different environment.

However, while fruit sales increased, vegetable sales did not. Sales of certain types of fish in the pilot store also increased – 7.3% for smoked fish and 13.4% for wet fish. In nearby control supermarkets, sales of smoked fish fell 45% in the same time period.

“Since the fruit and vegetables were central to the Priming Zone and the fish were positioned further into the store, we might hypothesise that the Priming Effect is not immediate and actually affects behaviour at the edge of the Priming Zone,” the study’s authors wrote. “If proven true, this would represent a powerful behavioural insight.”

The study said that ‘health priming’ could be an important additional tool alongside traditional health promotion and health education.

“Indeed the combination of promotion and priming may represent an important partnership for the future of supporting behaviour change – the spark of action applied to the kindling of knowledge,” it said.

According to the National Obesity Forum, two-thirds of the UK population does not consume the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.