The food environment

Professor David Russell discusses the four things that affect student food consumption following the release of new research

Research from Cornell University has shown that the immediate environment, paired with food presentation (the food environment) “plays a major role in determining consumption volume because it affects the accuracy of consumption monitoring and alters consumption norms.” This happens for four reasons: eating atmospherics, eating effort, eating with others, and eating distractions.

“Atmospherics influence eating duration. Increased effort decreases consumption. Socialising influences meal duration and consumption norms. Distractions (such as watching TV or reading while eating) can initiate, obscure, and extend consumption.”

Further research conducted in the Netherlands takes into consideration how the internal cognitive factors influencing food choice can be altered in any given environment. Internal schemes such as societal norms, self-control and biological cues are often influenced by our external environment, potentially leading consumers towards unhealthy food and beverage decisions in the pursuit of instant gratification, low expenditure or social conformity.

What we may already know – that the external environmental has the ability to influence internal thoughts, behaviours and schemes relating to food and beverage choice – is backed by years of research and academic findings. It’s how we utilise this research that is fundamental in ensuring our students have ample opportunity to make conscious, healthy and intentional decisions regarding their health outcomes. So, how do we do this?

Firstly, we can implement change on a campus level – ensuring that healthy messages are the norm and there is a consistent opportunity for students to nourish their bodies with wholesome produce. Efforts must be made by multiple functional areas to ensure communications are streamlined, and that there is opportunity for students to actively engage with educational programmes supporting healthy eating.

Secondly, environments can be set up to minimise impulse-buying of nutrient-devoid products and optimised to fuel the mindful purchase of nutritious foods; this can be achieved through strategic produce placement, fair price points and diversity of choice. Abundant fresh produce must be the feature, with high sugar and processed foods being substantially reduced.

Lastly, we must ensure food and beverage environments are aesthetically optimised to encourage healthy habits – this includes relevant décor, optimised seating layouts and appropriate socialisation opportunities.

Let’s stop distractions getting in the way of healthy intentions – and deliver clarity, simplicity and ease to our students through their campus environment.


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