Office veggies: Placing vegetables in public areas raises consumption by almost double, finds study

Placing free vegetables for snacking in public places can nearly double a person's daily veg intake ©iStock

Dutch researchers have found vegetable consumption can be increased dramatically using simple placement techniques in public places such as offices and hospitals.

Efforts to improve the public diet and increase the quantity of fruits and vegetables people eat have been constant, but people still do not eat the recommended quantity.

The Dutch public consume on average 130 g of vegetables a day, just over half the amount recommended by the Netherland’s Nutrition Centre (Voedingscentrum) of 250 g.

A team of Dutch researchers, funded by the trade group that represents the interests of the fruit and vegetable sector in the Netherlands GroentenFruitHuis, experimented with ways of increasing vegetable intake by placing free samples in public places.

Viktor Immink, a marketing researcher at Wageningen University’s economic research department, said: “The challenge was to get this average higher, and the workplace is a good context in which to do this.The lunch canteen seems an obvious one but when we tried it was a hard place to effect because people just want their meals.

"We looked for other moments, and found business meetings and hospitals were ideal. We placed pots of vegetables and cookies in these locations to measure the conflict between the two options. We offered vegetables in porcelain bowls and in one kilo boxes.

“We saw an enormous increase in consumption from the porcelain bowl – up to an average of 97 g per person per sitting. So that’s almost half the recommended daily intake in one go.”

When vegetables were placed in porcelain bowls during business meetings, average intake per person was at 80 grams per person. This was not affected when cookies were added as another option.

When each person was given a personal box of vegetables, the average consumption rose to 97 g per person.

Immink said further research was needed to determine whether the free vegetables were taken as a novelty.

If free vegetables were provided in public places every day, people may revert to eating the cookies instead, Immink said.

Recent studies in the UK have shown that public education is simply not enough to make the required changes a reality.

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Comments (1)

Jane Sherman - 03 Apr 2017 | 03:03

Nutrition education consultant

You say: "Recent studies in the UK have shown that public education is simply not enough to make the required changes a reality", with a link to the Food Foundation's brief on vegetable consumption. In the brief only one study fits this reference - an evaluation of the UK 5-A-Day campaign which resulted in increased awareness but not in increased consumption. Indeed, 5-A-Day campaigns have not had remarkable success, mainly because they are based upon a very limited model of food education. Our best understanding of the process of successful food education is that it focuses on developing changes in practices as well as knowledge, understanding and awareness (and is evaluated in these terms), includes all the main actors (e.g. vendors, government, food industry as well as consumers), and interacts fully with environmental, institutional and social support. The Food Foundation's excellent brief in fact makes constant reference to elements of this model (e.g. the lack of promotion for vegetables, the dominance of advertising of highly-processed food products, the centrality of consumer demand, the blend of healthy food and food education in schools, food preparation skills etc.) - all aspects of the educational package. With regard to your comment on the effectiveness of "public education", It is really essential to spell out what they mean by "education" and by "public education". To be fair you would also mention that actions to improve the food environment or access are also inadequate on their own (plenty of evidence here), in the absence of some level of food literacy in the population . It is the package and the mix (in different proportions for different contexts) that counts.

03-Apr-2017 at 15:03 GMT

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