Pathways to Wellness

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Places and spaces

Where we live, work, learn, and play has an enormous impact on wellness. Workplaces, schools, day cares, community centres and public spaces are settings where you and your family may spend a lot of time. A settings approach to wellness recognizes the power of the environment in shaping our attitudes, decisions and behaviour. Some environments make healthy choices easy to make and unhealthy choices difficult. Other environments do just the opposite.

Let’s look at a specific example:  The way school cafeterias are set up and run has a big influence on the foods students buy and eat. In fact you may be surprised at how small, no cost or low cost, changes can “nudge” students to make healthy decisions without limiting personal choice.

  • Putting oranges and apples in an attractive fruit bowl instead of a plain metal bowl doubles fruit consumption.
  • Giving foods more interesting or descriptive labels increases sales. Vegetable juice is much more attractive, and much more likely to be bought, when it is called “Rainforest Smoothie.”
  • Keeping ice cream in a freezer with an opaque lid reduces ice cream sales.
  • When a cafeteria worker asks, “do you want a salad?” sales go up by about 30 percent.
  • A policy which creates an “express lane” at the cash register for students who are not purchasing dessert or chips increases selection of healthier foods.

Even when there was no change in the food offered in the cafeteria and less healthy options were still available, students chose healthier foods when these choices were made more attractive and convenient.

The same kind of approach could be used in workplace cafeterias, restaurants and even grocery stores to nudge people in the direction of healthier options.  Notice where certain products are placed in stores. Cereals with lots of sugar are often at eye-level and healthier options are harder to find. Candy bars in the check-out lane are pretty hard to resist!  How can we use these same marketing strategies to our advantage and nudge people towards healthier choices?

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