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Smarter Lunchrooms Principle: Move the Fruit!

�Using Behavioral Economics to Improve Child Food Choice: The Impact of Informational Signals�


The overall goal of the proposed research is to explore whether information and signals have a positive effect on child food choice. We propose to conduct a series of field experiments during the National School Lunch Program with children in grades K-12 in Chicago Heights (13 schools). The effect of this information for different age groups will be analyzed. Chicago Heights has a mean household income of $14,963 with significant populations of minority students. 90% of students qualify for the National Free/Reduced Lunch Program.

The first objective is to measure the effect of varying social information on students� voluntary selection of a side dish. Students will be randomized into different treatments � in some treatments, students receive advice about different aspects of the side dish, while in others, students receive social information about choices of peers.

The second objective is to investigate whether informational signals about value or ownership increase consumption. We aim to use behavioral economics principles such as the endowment affect and signaling to stimulate increased consumption of healthy foods. In some treatments, the price of healthy options will be reduced, while on others, students receive VIP coupons for the healthy item.

This project has broad practical applications - providing information is relatively cheap and can be implemented on a wide scale in the lunchroom. Creative ways to signal price and ownership of healthy items will be developed for use in practical application. The projected outcome of the project is a brief explaining the value of each of these approaches and a practical �how-to� guide that explains the intervention to school officials. We also expect 2 peer-reviewed research publications in economic journals.

�Taste Texting� recruitment poster

�Taste Texting: A Pre-Order System for Fresh and Healthy High School Lunch�


The obstacles to serving and choosing healthy school lunches today are many. To address these challenges, we propose a simple coordinated text and web-based order system that will leverage prompting, choice, placement, pre-commitment and convenience to encourage high school students to unknowingly make better choices at lunch. The proposed program will make fresh, healthy, reimbursable school meals available for pre-order and pick up at an express kiosk located apart from the main cafeteria service area, allowing students to skip lengthy lunch lines, avoid the temptation of energy dense foods, and enjoy more of their lunch hour with friends.

The primary objective of this project is to improve fruit, vegetable, and fiber intake among high school students by increasing the proportion of healthy reimbursable meals selected and consumed at lunch. Secondary objectives include: 1) increasing participation in school lunch; 2) increasing the efficiency and profitability of the school lunch program; 3) decreasing cafeteria congestion and thus increasing the amount of unrushed time that students have to consume their food; 4) increasing sales of healthy ala carte items like fresh fruit and unflavored milk; and 5) keeping more students on campus for lunch. We hypothesize that behavioral economics factors such as placement and convenience (front of the line; kiosk set apart from cafeteria lines) of healthy grab-and-go lunch options will enhance sales.

However, we expect the largest impact on sales and cafeteria efficiency/profit will come from combining the pre-order text/web system and kiosk pick-up, and that this system will also increase healthy meal selection (and fruit, vegetable, fiber intake) among a sample of 200 high school students.

Collecting data on iPod at Rock Canyon Elementary

�Balancing the Tradeoffs of Different Nudges Designed to Increase Healthy Eating at School�


The power of the nudge to influence healthy eating habits has been documented in an increasing amount of research. In this project we examine situations in which schools must weigh the relative impact of different types of nudges and also the tradeoff of simultaneously helping one group while possibly harming another. We will focus specifically on school decisions that are designed to increase the fraction of children who are eating fruits and vegetables as part of their school-provided lunch.

Most of our project will focus on the decision of where to locate the fruit and vegetable items in the school cafeteria. Space constraints and the design of the serving area often force schools to make a tradeoff between providing a more convenient location for the fruits and vegetables, or placing them in a separate location that allows for a larger variety of items (in some cases this might even involve the ability to provide a salad bar with many options). We will examine the relative impact of these sometimes competing choices (location or variety) that schools must make.

We will also examine a second policy in which the fruit and vegetable items are made available to all students in the school, regardless of whether they purchased a school lunch. In this setting, changes that make the fruits and vegetables more accessible to children purchasing a lunch may reduce accessibility to the children bringing a lunch from home. We will also provide insight for schools about this policy by estimating the marginal cost of providing these items, whether it influences the decision of children to buy a school lunch, and whether providing these items improves test scores on that day.

Peru, NY Central School Lunchroom

�Building Healthy Habits in Social Networks:
Making Fruits and Vegetables a Popular Choice during the School Lunch�


A growing literature in the social sciences has highlighted the importance of social interactions and friendships on both eating and exercise habits. These peer effects might be particularly strong for childrenand adolescents. These interactions can promote both good and bad health habits and have to be taken into account when designing interventions. For example, policy makers might want to treat close-knit clusters of students in order to (a) amplify the effects of individual interventions and (b) prevent the treatment effect from dissipating as treated subjects pick up bad eating habits from untreated friends.

We analyze whether (a) explicit incentives can successfully change medium-term eating habits of fruits and vegetables even after the end of the intervention and (b) whether social incentives are complementary to individual incentives. We provide explicit incentives through book and game prizes to 5th grade students for consuming fruits and vegetablesat lunch. Some students collect stickers individually, while others are paired with randomly-selected others or friendsand collect as a team. The outcomes of interest are the short- and medium-term effects on selection of number of fruits and of vegetables during the observation period. By comparing behavioral changes across a control group that receives no incentives, and treatment groups exposed to individual, simple team and social team incentives we can analyze whether treatment effects are boosted through explicitincentives, and whether team (social) incentives work better than individual incentives.

Our findings can identify effective strategies related to the use of simple or social team effects for encouraging healthy food choices among school children that are low-cost and scalable.