USDA to Fund K-12 Meal Behavioral Center at Cornell University

The USDA has announced the establishment of a new center at Cornell University that will study and test economical strategies that can be used in school nutrition programs to encourage students to pick healthier menu choices on their own. Co-directed by professors David Just and Brian Wansink of Cornell's Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management, the new Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs will look at behavioral solutions that leverage the natural psychology of choice that teenagers use to choose what they eat.

For example, requiring cash for less healthful items while making healthful items easier to purchase through debit transactions; or putting healthier foods at the front end of serving lines and keeping less healthy options in the middle, which tends to be less patronized. Citing examples of the practical results such practices can generate, Wansink and Dyson said one school achieved a nearly 300% increase in salad consumption simply by moving the salad bar six feet from a wall and putting it near a natural bottleneck in the checkout line. Another increased fruit sales by over 100% by moving its apples and oranges from stainless steel bins into a well-lit and attractive basket.

The threefold goal is to find solutions that produce dramatic results, are inexpensive—generally under $50 to implement—and do not produce the kind of participation backlash that comes from strategies that simply eliminate unhealthy but popular choices in favor of healthier but unappealing choices often cause.