Getting people to eat healthier is a goal that many public health initiatives have struggled with. Just getting people to buy healthier foods in the store is only half the battle – actually getting people to prepare and consume healthier foods once they’ve filled their fridge with fruits and veggies is often another story.
According to research from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, implementing a simple three-rule system into your everyday life can make the difference between snacking on healthy foods versus snacking on less healthy foods. It’s all about making the healthier options more convenient and readily available for snackers.
The C.A.N. Approach
What researchers came up with is a way of looking at nutrition that they deemed the “C.A.N Approach”(1). The approach relies on three basic principles:
Is the food easy to see, order, pick up, and consume?
Is the name, appearance, and price of the food attractive, and does it inspire attractive expectations in the consumer?
Is it a food that you normally order, purchase, and eat?
If a healthy food meets all of these criteria, the researchers found based on their systematic review of 112 scientific studies on eating behaviours, a person is more likely to choose the healthy option, even when presented with a less healthy one.
In short, people want to eat healthy, but convenience, attractiveness, and how well the food fits into their normal eating habits are often the stumbling blocks they need to get around in order to do so.
Making Healthy Choices Easier
“A healthy diet can be as easy as making the healthiest choice the most convenient, attractive, and normal,” said lead study author Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, in a recent press release(2).
“With these three principles, there are endless changes that can be made to lead people – including ourselves – to eat healthier.”
For example, if elementary schools want to improve childrens milk intake, the steps they need to take would involve making milk more convenient than chocolate milk – making it less expensive, for example, or putting it in a more accessible display – as well as making it more attractive by packing it in a cooler bottle with more appeal for kids, and making it more normal by giving it more display space than chocolate milk.
When schools implemented these procedures for promoting milk over chocolate milk, they saw a marked increase in milk consumption.
Understanding Subliminal Messaging
However, these three techniques are also used to promote less healthy – and more expensive – foods all the time.
For example, when you’re at a restaurant and the waiter indicated an appetizer with sleek professional photo and enticing name, the restaurant is using their own version of the C.A.N. Approach to make that food seem more convenient, attractive, and normal in the hopes of getting you to buy it.
It’s almost a form of subliminal messaging that many people find themselves susceptible to.
Using The C.A.N Approach In Your Daily Life
Ultimately, incorporating the C.A.N. Approach into your daily life doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as putting out a fruit bowl on your kitchen counter, so that natural foods are a readily available snack, and moving the ice cream to the back of your freezer.
Researchers are positive about the weight loss potential of the C.A.N Approach. In fact, Wansink has written two books on the subject now – Mindless Eating(3) and Slim By Design(4), both books designed to help us understand the subliminal patterns that govern our eating habits.
But the strength of the C.A.N. Approach lies in its common-sense narrative: that losing weight isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, either.
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