Smarter Lunchrooms: Libertarian Paternalism Can Address New School Lunchroom Guidelines and Childhood Obesity
25 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2012
Date Written: June 7, 2012
To determine whether simple, low/no-cost, and choice-preserving interventions in school lunchrooms lead students to consume more fruits, vegetables, and fewer starchy sides. To test the total lunchroom makeover concept, we conducted the experiment in two separate locations. The control period lasted from February to March 2011 and the treatment period lasted from April to May 2011. In two high schools in Western New York State, researchers worked with the food service director and cafeteria staff to carry out a series of relatively simple and low/no-cost changes to the lunchroom environment – the total lunchroom makeover.
The total lunchroom makeover increased the likelihood that students ate at least some fruit from 40.4% to 47.7% (p < 0.01), and ate at least some vegetables from 33.7% to 42% (p < 0.01). In contrast, the total lunchroom makeover did not affect the consumption of starchy side items. Available side options also affect students’ choices of fruits and vegetables. Our results demonstrate the power of the total lunchroom makeover in leading students to consume healthier lunches while simultaneously preserving choice – a direct application of libertarian paternalism. We find that students who did not eat fruit or vegetables before the makeover were more likely to eat at least some, if not all, of their fruit or vegetables after the makeover. This proof of concept illustrates the powerful impact a series of simple and low cost environmental changes have on children’s food behavior, at very minimal cost.
Keywords: Child nutrition programs, behavioral economics, fruit and vegetable intake
JEL Classification: D03, I18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation