>> Subtle changes to the accessibility and presentation of healthy foods help school children to make better food choices, according to a study by researchers at Leeds Beckett University.

They found pupils were more than twice as likely to choose promoted food items during a trial which used “behavioural nudge” tactics to encourage the purchase of healthy foods in the school canteen.

The study took place in two secondary schools in Yorkshire, one of which was used as a control with the trial taking place in the other. The school kitchen served 980 students and operated a three-week menu cycle of freshly prepared meals with two daily specials, one of which was a vegetarian option.

The researchers made a variety of subtle changes to the way the food was presented and packaged, which included repositioning promoted foods, using disposable pots and trays to serve meals rather than dinner plates, daily posters, window stickers and stickers with smiley faces promoting the designated healthy food options.

During the six-week trial, the researchers found that a selection of the promoted food items significantly increased, with students two and a half times as likely to select these healthier foods.

Dr Hannah Ensaff, a research fellow in nutrition at Leeds Beckett, said: “Adolescents’ diet in the UK is high in saturated fat and sugar, along with low fruit and vegetable consumption. These choices, typified by low intake of plant-based foods, are mirrored in school canteens, where students commonly bypass freshly prepared nutrient rich meals.

“School canteens in UK secondary schools are often time-pressured environments – rendering food choice even more susceptible to automatic decision-making.

“During our study we found that simple changes to the way food was presented and packaged in the school canteen had a significant effect on students’ selections towards more favourable food options.

“Results from our research have shown that ‘nudge’ strategies, which don’t remove the freedom to choose can be really effective in promoting better food choices and changing behaviour.”