Redesign the whole school, not just the lunch line

A recent “Op-Chart” from the New York Times, by Brian Wansink, David R. Just and Joe McKendry is an example of trying to take the design of a school space seriously. The authors model how small changes in the way lunch products are marketed may have a big effect on sales. This is a really creative presentation and I would love to read the actual study(ies?) in question.

Unfortunately, the presentation of data in the diagram leaves a lot to be desired–the percentage changes are unclear and the scope of the study is similarly vague. One of the links reads that moving the location of the broccoli increased the amount students purchased from 10% to 15%. I am not sure what this means, what percent of what? The authors write:

Experiments that we and other researchers have done in cafeterias at high schools, middle schools and summer camp programs, as well as in laboratories, have revealed many ways to use behavioral psychology to coax children to eat better. Here are a dozen such strategies that work without requiring drastic or expensive changes in school menus.

While I applaud the consideration of behavioral psychology in the design of school space, I think this application is short-sighted. If we are going to change the eating habits of our youth, we had better think about how to educate our students in a way that will get them to consciously, rather than unconsciously, choose healthy foods. If not, the meals they eat in schools might be healthier, but students still won’t be more capable of making healthy choices when choosing among the culinary options they have access to in real life.

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