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29-06-2011 | Dietetics | Article

Meal choices in university canteens not affected by nutrition information


Free abstract

MedWire News: The posting of nutrition information in university canteens does not effectively change meal choices and nutrient intakes, study results show.

Rather, the nutritional value of students' meal choices simply mirrored that of the range of meals on offer, show the findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"The ineffectiveness of the intervention in this particular sample and setting showed the enormous challenge of changing dietary habits of young adults for whom price, taste, and appearance are often more important than the healthfulness of foods," Christine Hoefkens (Ghent University, Belgium) and colleagues comment.

Studies have shown that most consumers are unaware of the nutritional quality of foods consumed out-of-home compared with at home.

The provision of simple and easily accessible nutrition information on out-of-home foods could in theory benefit public health by facilitating healthier food choices - although such interventions have shown mixed results in the past.

For the current study, Hoefkens et al surveyed meal choices and nutrient intake among 224 students who used two university canteens over a 3-day period then repeated this after the implementation of a nutrition information intervention.

The intervention first involved evaluating possible meal combinations for their energy content, saturated fat, sodium, and vegetable portions. Using a ranking system of stars (0-3) the 12 best combinations were selected on the basis of the meal recommendations and posted on large poster boards at the entrance of the canteens and next to example dishes at the buffet counter.

The team found that reported meal choices and nutrient intakes did not improve after the intervention.

The nutritional profiles of the students meal choices, obtained from a qualitative and quantitative nutritional assessment of meals, mirrored the nutritional profile of all meals offered and not that of the recommended meals offered.

Of note, about 70% of meal choices were meals without stars or with one star only, which was similar to the profile of the meals supplied.

"Knowing that the meal choice reflects the meals offered, interventions in which the individual does not have to actively choose healthier foods because of a limited number of unhealthy choices may have a greater effect on healthy eating but is contradictory with the idea of libertarian paternalism," comment Hoefkens et al.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Andrew Czyzewski

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