Finding ways to make healthy eating on campus the simple choice

By Abbie Leland on June 14, 2013

Oregon State University dining centers and shops benefited from a little expertise from Cornell when Kathryn Hoy of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs came for a visit. Hoy was invited by the Moore Family Center and the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, as well as the Be Well Healthy Eating committee.

An expert on how layout, design and product placement affect the healthy eating habits of children, Hoy was able to provide input to UHDS, MU and student health services representatives on a number of campus eateries and stores, which they may be able to incorporate into changes that will increase the sales of more nutritious food items.

Hoy works with Brian Wansink at Cornell, who has done landmark work in healthy eating and developing smarter lunchrooms. Normally her area of expertise is grade school children but she was able to adapt much of what she knew to the college setting.

At Pangea, for example, she suggested that the restaurant feature less nutritional information and more photos of healthy meals, and offered ways to make healthy offerings appear to be the economic as well as the smarter choice.

She suggested ways to move items around the convenience store “Bites” in order to keep healthier items together, and more obvious, and how to keep students from gravitating toward chips and other snacks as the immediate, and easy choice.

Lynn Cordes, a nutritionist and health educator with Student Health Services, hosted Hoy during her morning tour of OSU facilities. She said there were a number of observations Hoy made that could easily be done with the potential to make a big impact on consumer behavior.

“Hoy explained that students are in a “hot state” when they are making purchases, and aren’t considering many other variables other than their hunger, and the taste and appearance of food,” Cordes said. “Students are in more of a “cold state” once they are eating, so that’s the time to provide educational materials on the tables, probably in the form of table tents.”

Another option might be lowering the cost of fruits and vegetables to make them the most affordable choice, and increasing the cost of less nutritious food to make up the difference. Bundling food items together to make a healthy, appealing combination meal is another idea that could be done at any OSU restaurant.

Tara Sanders, a nutritionist with University Housing and Dining, said Hoy’s message seemed to emphasis making the healthy choice the simple choice.

“She made suggestions such as providing photos of some healthy options that aren’t readily identified by their names, like our Pacific City salad,” Sanders said. “And she suggested that we have signs at the cash register advertising healthy choices that may prompt point-of-sale purchases.”

Hoy’s suggestions will be discussed by OSU-related food service managers to see which ones might be implemented at various locations.

In addition to her visit to dining centers, Hoy gave a seminar on “Behavioral Economics: Engaging Kids in Nutrition Education Programs and Research” ( as well as meeting with a number of researchers on campus who work in the areas of families and nutrition. She was hosted by Emily Ho, director of the Moore Family Center, during the afternoon.

~ Theresa Hogue

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