Should we change the number of less healthy food options available rather than the number of healthier options?

Cues in our environments shape our behaviour, but little research has addressed whether healthier food cues have a similar impact to less healthy food cues. This online study examined the impact on food selection of the number of (i) healthier and (ii) less healthy snack foods available. UK adults (n=1,509) chose the food they would most like to eat from: (a) two healthier and two less healthy foods, (b) six healthier and two less healthy foods, or (c) two healthier and six less healthy foods. Compared to being offered two healthier and two less healthy options, the odds of choosing a healthier option were twice as high with four additional healthier options, while the odds of choosing a less healthy option were four times higher with four additional less healthy options. This suggests that less healthy food cues can have a larger effect than healthier ones. Consequently, removing less healthy as opposed to adding healthier food options could have greater impact on encouraging healthier selections.

Availability of healthier vs. less healthy food and food choice: an online experiment. Pechey, R., & Marteau, T. M. BMC Public Health

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