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February 12, 2014

What solutions do experts and students think of to get people to eat healthier? A summary of the Oslo workshop

This week I attended a workshop in Oslo in the beautiful building of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The aim of the workshop organized by our Food Ecology group of the Center of Advanced Studies was to come up with novel communication solutions to combat unhealthy eating habits. Guess what the typical ideas are that groups of participants came up with? First of all, apps and blogs are seen as a key solution to inspire consumers to change their behavior. The winning group came with an app for children that reward them for tasting new healthy foods. Other ideas were Facebook cooking pages and nutrition education campaigns targeting hard to reach consumers.

I admit that I am not objective, but I believe that our group came up with a very innovative nudge; a smart cap for sugary soft drink bottles that reduces the sip size. A study of Pascalle Weijzen and colleagues showed that smaller sip sizes lead to less consumption and quicker satisfaction. Our soft drink bottle concept also includes portion size indicators using clever sound and color sensors that indicate a suitable portion size. Enjoy more and drink less! However, one jury member called that 'a fantasy' and another jury member worried about Norwegian consumers traveling to Sweden to purchase cheaper soft drinks. Too bad...

Interestingly, when people are asked to come up with solutions, they first of all seem to think of the educational route to persuasion. This may be obvious, but Walls and colleagues wrote in their paper called 'Why education and choice won't solve the obesity problem' in the American Journal of Public Health: 'Although education and access to information are fundamental rights and are important in a democracy, they have a negligible impact on obesity'.

Anyway, it was fun to see how education is like the first intuitive way to go, even though it is getting more and more clear that focusing solely on increasing people's knowledge will not be sufficient in changing eating habits.

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