Health and the City is a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues, spotlights the local organizations whose work impacts the wellness of our community, and highlights fun, useful, and important health, nutrition, and active living opportunities. Health and the City appears every month and is brought to you by Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln. Find us at HealthyLincoln.org. Send questions or health, wellness, or fitness event information or stories to jpearsonanderson@healthylincoln.org

HAVE YOU BEEN “NUDGED”?

Two studies, one published in the New England Journal of Medicine and one in the British Journal of Nutrition, explored how and where items are displayed in a store affects buying habits, particularly food. What do the studies suggest? Placement matters.

Have you noticed what’s often displayed at the checkout counter at your favorite grocery store, drugstore, convenience store, or even retail store?

And, despite your best intentions, have you grabbed a last minute soda, candy bar, or cookie, as you’re checking out? Of course you have. You’ve just been “nudged”.

TOO MANY CHOICES FRY THE BRAIN

What’s “nudging”? Nudging is a sales tactic that places choices in an easy to see and reach spot, displaying it in an attractive way, where it literally becomes “eye candy” to us - often at the point when we are most vulnerable.

According to, Dr. Deborah A. Cohen, a senior natural scientist at Rand Health, people have the ability to make only so many choices per day. She says people are susceptible to spontaneous bad-for-you buys because of a struggle within the brain.

That sugary soda, energy drink, and candy bar is placed at the end of the shopping trip – the checkout counter. By that time, a shopper may have seen hundreds or thousands of product choices. Additionally, food marketers, who often pay retailers big bucks for their placements, pretest promotional displays to make them influential and hard to resist.

When decision-making capacity is shot and resistance is down, a shopper’s impulse to make junk food and drink choices surges, says Cohen.

JUST A FEW BUCKS, CALORIES, RIGHT?

Nudging seems to work. Nine out of 10 shoppers make impulse purchases, according to a shopper behavior survey. And, as another survey by a retail analyst group found, there's a good chance all this spur-of-the-moment buying means excess pounds.

With the U.S. in the middle of an obesity epidemic costing the country millions treating obesity-related diseases, those few pounds and extra dollars do, for individuals, and the community, add up. Sugary beverages like soda, energy, and sports drink are some of the main culprits in the obesity epidemic and are frequent checkout counter placements.

NUDGING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Stores. There’s a push on within the health community to get grocery, convenience, and drug stores to remove at least some of the sugary beverages, candy, and other low-nutrition items from the checkout counter.

Additionally, nudging placement strategy can also be used to promote healthy food and beverage choices, without loss of revenue, by placing 75% of the healthier choices at the top eye levels and packaging them attractively. Several Lincoln stores offer this. Check with your favorite store for a healthy or no junk food/drink checkout option.

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