posted on Oct.1: Study shows if you see it, you might eat it


Imagine you're standing in line at the Commons Marketplace. You're hungry. You're short on cash, time and energy. What can you eat that tastes good and is good for you?

Kinesiology professor Kathleen Martin and fellow researchers Lori Buscher and Shannon Crocker have the B*E*S*T snack solution.

During the fall of 1999 and spring of 2000, more than 2,200 McMaster students encountered large, colourful posters placed in the entrance to the Commons Marketplace cafeteria.

The posters emphasized BEST snack food choices — budget-friendly, energizing, sensory satisfaction/taste and time/convenient — such as yogurt, pretzels, fruit or vegetable baskets.

The posters were used as point-of-purchase (POP) interventions to promote healthful eating to students, emphasizing the benefits of choosing yogurt over french fries as a snack choice.

Research has shown that university students tend to snack frequently, skip meals and have diets high in fat but lacking in fruits and vegetables.

The POP intervention, conducted at McMaster's largest cafeteria, was part of a study recently published by Buscher, Martin and Crocker in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

POP interventions have often been used at university cafeterias, but have had little success in promoting healthier eating.

“Many POP interventions tend to emphasize nutritional labelling, such as fat content. That type of message just can't compete with all the eye-catching food promotions going on in most cafeterias,” says Martin. “Even if students read the nutrition labels, they often fail to use that information because it's too difficult to understand and apply.”

Buscher, who implemented the POP intervention as part of her thesis, monitored sales of each food item before, during and after each intervention. The colourful posters, with messages that framed the benefits of purchasing yogurt, pretzels, fruit and veggies baskets significantly increased sales of yogurt and pretzels and increased the consumption of fresh whole fruit during and after each intervention.

Why didn't the intervention seem to work for fruit and veggie baskets? Martin explains that the fruit and vegetable baskets cost substantially more than yogurt and pretzels and students might not have liked particular fruits or vegetables included in the baskets.

“Interestingly enough, whole fruit sales did increase during the week that the fruit baskets were promoted. We think it's because single pieces of fruit cost much less than fruit baskets and students could chose their favourite fruit.”

Individual vegetable portions were not available during the vegetable basket intervention and the authors speculate that if items such as carrot or celery sticks had been available, sales of vegetables might have increased during this week.

Martin notes that although other POP intervention studies have produced mixed findings, the McMaster study illustrated that POP interventions can increase healthful snack consumption “if they use simple, colourful, eye-catching messages that highlight the BEST principles of food rather than nutrition content.”

Images on the right are from the four posters used in the POP study.