Rewards can help junk-food junkies kick the habit
Washington D.C, Apr 29 : A new study has revealed that junk-food junkies kicktheir food habit and go healthy when they are rewarded.According to the Cornell University research, the most effective strategy for influencing healthy food choices in is not calorie counts and reduced prices, but rather more subtle incentives that reward healthy eating behavior.
Researchers Robert Kwortnik and Brian Wansink showed that consumers, who have poor eating habits and who are overweight, benefit the most from long-term reward incentives than if they are offered price reductions of an equal value. However, among healthy eaters, price breaks lead to more purchases of less healthy items.
According to Kwortnik, 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).
He added, "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."
For consumers, behavioral reward programs introduce more variety, especially among healthy food choices, and consumers are rewarded for making smarter choices. The study indicates "incentivizing with behavioral rewards is more effective for consumers who are either overweight or junk-food junkies. The points received for each healthy choice not only led to a reward (e.g., accumulated cash value or free food), but also signify the otherwise intangible benefits of an isolated act of eating healthy."
For food service providers, healthy eating incentives help build a better brand at a lower cost. The study said, "While fast-food restaurants spend millions on marketing healthy menu options, these efforts have little effect on consumers' choices."
The findings also provide a better solution for governments and policymakers that rely on taxation and regulation to promote healthy eating. While those solutions place undesirable burdens on businesses, policies or regulations to encourage behavioral rewards programs are unlikely to stimulate negative reactions from food companies because such programs help promote the healthy food items already on their menus and encourage repeat customers.
The study appears in the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.