This Is How You Get People to Kick Junk Food

By Mike Pomranz |
SALT MAKES US EAT MORE FWX

© Yuri_Arcurs/Getty Images

Junk food has its own built in reward: It tastes awesome and it tastes awesome right now. But the benefits of healthy eating can seem more intangible: “Great. I get to live longer. When does that happen??”

When you think of it that way, the findings of a new study out of Cornell University actually make a lot of sense. Researchers discovered that tying immediate benefits to healthy eating was a more effective way of getting junk food lovers to alter their eating habits than more common methods like calorie counts, reduced prices and advertising.

"The findings are significant because they reveal a positive path—behavioral rewards for making good food choices—to healthy eating, as opposed to the punitive path (e.g., calorie counting or food restrictions),” said Robert Kwortnik, one of the paper’s authors, referencing a study that compared giving customers rewards point versus a straight discount. “We find that offering rewards, such as points that can be redeemed later, encourage healthy food choices, especially for consumers with bad eating habits. So restaurants can encourage repeat patronage with reward programs and encourage healthy eating by rewarding consumers for making better choices. It's a win-win."

An interesting side note: The study found that incentives worked mainly for those with poor eating habits. Participants who were already healthy eaters tended to respond more to price breaks.

Regardless, if you’re trying to eat healthier, it appears the old adage is true: You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Though in this scenario, honey probably isn’t the best incentive: It’s almost entirely sugar. And I don’t think flies are that into reward points. 

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