Canteen calories: prompting healthier choices

Small changes to canteen menus resulted in a significant decrease in consumed calories...
24 September 2021


A tray with a burger, chips, and soft drink.


A catalogue of minor 'nudges' could be used to tackle big problems...

Tackling obesity is understandably high on the agenda in the UK: a 2020 NHS survey in England found that almost one in three adults are obese, while in 2021 it was reported that in just one year of recording there were over one million hospital admissions where obesity was a factor.

A study just published in PLOS Medicine has shown that a key factor in obesity - a person’s calorie intake - can be significantly reduced by making only two minor modifications to a familiar food environment.

A team of UK researchers achieved an 11.5% decrease in the calorie intake of workers at 19 workplace canteens by swapping out some high calorie foods with lower calorie alternatives, like swapping beef burgers with chicken burgers, and by reducing the portion sizes of certain high calorie options.

Lead author of the study, James Reynolds of Aston University, said that “One of the main factors that’s causing this sudden rise in obesity and overweight rates are the unhealthy food environments that surround us.” In fact, James explained that, on average, adults in the UK consume an excess 200-300 calories per day.

The underlying idea behind the study is that, instead of making sweeping changes to the way we live, many small changes could add up and have the desired impact on our diets. As James put it, “We found evidence that adding one [intervention] to another was much more effective than an intervention in isolation. And there’s every reason to believe that this would continue to be the case with other interventions that are combined to it.”

It’s hoped that related changes could be implemented in similar environments, such as schools and universities, to lead to a greater effect across the population. Encouragingly, comparable findings have recently been found in supermarkets, paving the way for a strategy to tackle obesity that most of us may not even notice.


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