Mass General in Boston implements easy program to encourage healthy food purchases; from a 1/19/12 press release:

A simple program involving color-coded food labeling and adjusting the way food items are positioned in display cases was successful in encouraging more healthful food choices in a large hospital cafeteria. The report from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers will appear in the March American Journal of Public Health and has received early online release.

“We found that labeling all foods and beverages with a simple red, yellow and

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green color scheme to indicate their relative healthiness led patrons to purchase more of the healthy and fewer of the unhealthy items,” says Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, of the MGH division of General Medicine, who led the study. “We also found that moving items around to make the healthy items more convenient and visible led to further improvement in the nutritional quality of items purchased.”

The study authors note that most current point-of-purchase efforts to encourage more healthful food choices focus on labeling the calorie content of food, which will soon be required for many restaurants and food service vendors as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, calorie information is only useful if people read and comprehend it – which requires understanding their own calorie needs, accurately estimating serving sizes, and having enough time to consider and act on the information provided. Studies by psychologists and behavioral economists also have noted that individuals tend to maintain their typical behavior patterns and are more motivated by actions with immediate, rather than long-term rewards.

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