by Anna Maltby
Romulo YanesYou might have seen studies in the past about how putting healthy food at eye level and clearly labeling it as healthy (and putting unhealthy food out of reach and labeling it as such) can help people make smarter food choices, but most of those studies were done only over a short period of time. Well, a study out today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that those smart rearrangements have serious staying power.
A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital "took over" the hospital's cafeteria for two years, labeling all items as either green (low in calories and saturated fat; contained one or more healthy ingredients), red (high in calories and saturated fat; contained little or no healthy ingredients) or yellow (neither healthy nor unhealthy), and rearranged food and beverage displays so that green items were easier to grab -- and were at eye-level.
See more: 5 Simple Steps to Cellulite-Free SkinOver the first six months of the experiment, sales of green items increased significantly, and red items decreased -- and over the next 18 months, those levels remained steady. In other words, patrons of the cafeteria continued to make smart eating choices even after any initial novelty from the cool new "traffic-light" labeling system and displays wore off.
"Making healthy items more visible and convenient for purchase, especially in the setting of a busy cafeteria, increases the likelihood that a customer with choose the healthier item as the 'default,'" lead author Anne N. Thorndike, M.D., told SELF. "For example, we placed baskets of bottled water at every food station so that a person ordering a sandwich or an entree would automatically pick up the water as their beverage, rather than going over to the refrigerator and getting tempted by sugar-sweetened sodas or juices."
See more: Slim Down in 14 Days!While you may not be lucky enough to have your work cafeteria specially engineered by experts in public health and nutrition (bummer, we know), you might try incorporating what Dr. Thorndike calls "choice architecture" at home.
"If you place the cookies on a top shelf or hard-to-reach place, you may be less likely to reach for them mindlessly -- and the extra time you spend trying to get them may give you enough of a pause to decide that you did not really want them in the first place," Dr. Thorndike says. "On the other hand, if the carrot sticks are in the front of the refrigerator, you may be more likely to grab them as a snack than the chips hidden in a bottom drawer."
That's not so hard, is it? And there's no red stickers required!
So, what do you guys think? Have you tried rearranging stuff? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us @amalt and @SELFmagazine!