Changing the choice architecture of school food environments
We had been working with school caterers to change the choice architecture of dining environment in primary schools, encouraging children's consumption of fruit and veg in school dinners and packed lunches.
This training combines multimedia, testimonials, live events, practical sessions in schools, and one-to-one support. We have identified the key behaviour change principles that can be used to support healthy choices in schools and teach the caterers how to improve positioning and presentation of food; use role modelling, social encouragement, rewards, and branding of healthy foods; and how to gradually manage changes to provision and school menus.
As part of this research, Food Dudes Dining Experience, a comprehensive behaviour change intervention designed to improve school food environment and maintain the gains from the intensive Phase 1 of the Food Dudes Programme was trialled in collaboration with Bolton Council School Caterers. Across four schools, primary school children took part in either a full Food Dudes program that included a Dining Experience intervention or a reduced program that did not significantly change school food environment. Key evaluation measures included direct observation of children's consumption at school and caterer and school records to assess changes in school meal provision and uptake. We recorded substantial improvements in children's consumption of fruit and vegetables, and a significant decrease in their consumption of foods high in fat, salt and sugar at follow-up in the intervention schools, but poorer maintenance in control schools.
We concluded that combining an intervention that provides demand for healthy foods and attractive branding of fruit and veg with an intervention that makes choosing healthy foods easy and appealing to the children can substantially change their diets.
We are thankful to Food Dudes Health Ltd; caterers and schools that took part; and the School of Psychology, Bangor University for their contributions to this research.