PHE Behavioural Insights worked with London Borough of Hounslow to conduct a randomised control trial investigating the effect of a healthy food environment checklist designed using behavioural insights on the healthy and unhealthy food purchases made by secondary school students. This case study forms part of our behavioural insights resource.
The results of the trial indicated that a healthy food environment checklist can improve the healthiness of pupils’ purchasing behaviour. The trial resulted in several recommendations for the schools that could be implemented to improve the healthiness of the food environment.
This project was commissioned by London Borough of Hounslow to support the commitment in the government plan on childhood obesity that “every public sector setting, from leisure centres to hospitals, should have a food environment designed so the easy choices are also the healthy ones”. The purpose of the trial was to identify whether low cost behavioural-insight-informed changes to food environments can increase healthy food purchases in secondary schools.
As checklists effectively aid in task completion, the list of suggested changes to the school food environment was presented in checklist format. The checklist recommended changes to the environment, canteen policies and procedures. Behavioural insights were incorporated into the design of the checklist: anchoring staff to
check off a high number of items, presenting the checklist in a scorecard format with social approval indicators associated with higher scores, grouping similar items on the checklist, and providing examples of how changes could be implemented. The checklist was visually appealing and in A3 size so that it could be pinned up and referred to regularly.
Providing schools with the checklist improved the healthiness of school pupil purchasing behavior by increasing the sales of all healthy items in the intervention schools.
How is the new approach being sustained?
Learning from the project has been informed the agenda of borough’s Obesity Task Force and a larger pilot will be conducted before rolling out the initiative on a wider basis.
PHE Behavioural Insights made a series of recommendations to London Borough of Hounslow based on the results of the trial. These recommendations included suggestions on changes to the school canteen environments as proposed by the checklist as well as additional changes such as improvements in data recording, a supplementary guide explaining how checklist suggestions can be implemented or the introduction of healthy food environment commitment contracts from catering companies.