Want to encourage residents to improve their eating habits? Behavioral nudges, especially portion control, are an effective strategy, say consumer scientists.

Researchers examined 96 former studies that tested specific methods for improving food choices and eating habits. These included cognitive nudges such as placing healthy foods where they’ll be noticed, to hedonic nudges such as posting encouraging signage. But it was the behavioral-oriented nudges that worked best to change eating behavior, they found. 

This included strategies such as pre-cutting vegetables for convenience. And the most effective of these was reducing the portion size of unhealthy foods.

“Some [methods] appeal to people’s voice of reason or judgment, others play on their emotions and some focus directly on changing behavior,” said Romain Cadario of the IÉSEG School of Management in Paris. “By choosing the best strategy you can see results that are six-times more effective.”

The study, “Which Healthy Eating Nudges Work Best? A Meta-Analysis of Field Experiments,” was published in the journal Marketing Science. A summary can be found at the website for INFORMS, an international operations research and analytics association.