Automated emails and letters that provide personalized feedback related to cafeteria purchases at work may help employees make healthier food choices. That’s the conclusion of a new study that was led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and is published in JAMA Network Open.
As many adults spend half (and sometimes more) of their waking hours working, the workplace provides a unique opportunity to promote health with programs that target obesity, unhealthy diets, and other risk factors for chronic diseases and premature death.
Building on findings from previous studies, researchers designed the ChooseWell 365 clinical trial to test a 12-month automated, personalized behavioral intervention to prevent weight gain and improve diet in hospital employees. For the trial, 602 MGH employees who regularly used the hospital’s cafeterias were randomized to an intervention group or a control group. For one year, participants in the intervention group received two emails per week that included feedback on their previous cafeteria purchases and offered personalized health and lifestyle tips. They also received one letter per month with comparisons of their purchases with those of their peers, as well as financial incentives for healthier purchases. Control participants received one letter per month with general healthy lifestyle information.
Although I don’t use nutritional information or count calories at every meal any more, I did six years ago when I started on this blog. it proved to be an invaluable tool at the time. I don’t now because I pretty much have the nutritional info in my head and it feels redundant to refer back to the data. That doesn’t mean I think paying attention to nutritional info and calorie counts is a bad idea. Au contraire.
There are a number of different ways that health conscious eaters can work at it. Researchers at the University of Illinois have taken up the cudgel to make it easier. They were particularly interested how to do it in time-constrained situation, like being in line at a restaurant.
Diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease can often be prevented or treated by managing the intake of certain nutrients. However, in a time-constrained situation, such as standing in line at a cafeteria or restaurant, it can be difficult for consumers to quickly calculate and use numerical nutrition information—beyond the amount of calories—provided for menu items.
A new study from the University of Illinois found that when consumers are shown a graphical display of select nutrients on a 2-dimensional plot when ordering in a café setting, they purchase healthier, not just lower-calorie, menu items as a meal.
Manabu T. Nakamura, an associate professor of nutrition at U of I, said understanding how to best present nutrition information is an important, new area of research for him and his lab. “We have researched how fats or carbs metabolize and are regulated, for example. Based on this kind of research, the message of what nutrients we should eat is pretty set. The important thing is learning how you select the right foods. We need to provide a way to communicate what foods to select for certain health problems. Continue reading →