How to make your family and friends eat healthy

Jodesz Gavilan
How to make your family and friends eat healthy
A Cornell University study finds that people eat more healthy if they have an environment that supports it

MANILA, Philippines – Tired of seeing your family or friends eat unhealthy food? You might want to make your surroundings more “nutritionally-friendly”.

A recent study, Change Their Choice! Changing Behavior Using the CAN Approach and Activism Research by a Cornell University department, suggests that an environment that supports healthy eating is more effective than verbally encouraging people to be more health conscious.

An average person makes an estimated 200 decisions regarding food or eating. These decisions, the study said, are mostly “quick and instinctive”.

According to Cornell Food and Brand Lab Director Brian Wansink, about 95% of diets fail because of the ineffectiveness of willpower. He added that only 5% to 10% of the population can rely on their willpower.

Coupled with the fast-paced lives everyone lives now, people usually do not have the time to sit around and ponder on what’s the healthy thing to eat. They often get what’s convenient and hassle-free. (READ: Pushing for food education vs malnutrition)

Don’t rely on willpower?

The study suggests that for people to choose healthier food, the food must be convenient, attractive, and normal – the CAN approach.

This approach yields more effective results than actually reminding people what they should eat or relying on willpower to resist unhealthy meals.

With this conclusion, the CAN approach should be used to promote healthier eating habits.

1. Convenient

Producers should think of innovative ways to lessen the efforts on the part of consumers when it comes to healthy options. Complexity can turn off a consumer from any food product.

For example, pre-cut fruit choices might be more accessible than untouched and whole ones. Reasons for this vary from “it can be messy” to “it might get stuck in the braces,” the study said.

At home, Wansink suggests placing a fruit container near where people walk by and to at least have two options of fruits. Through this, your family can just grab a banana or an apple – among other healthy fruits – whenever they feel hungry instead of grabbing junkfood from the pantry. 

2. Attractive

The age-old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” unfortunately does not apply to food. People, especially children who need the most nutrients to function well, are often swayed by the attractiveness of a meal or a food product.

The concept of being attractive can be applied in various ways. The food can be attractively named or priced. They can also be attractive in appearance (packaging or the way it is plated) which can suggest it’s tasty. (READ: Junk food vs good food: What’s more expensive?)

The study cited an experiment wherein more children ate an apple packaged with a sticker of a famous cartoon character than a bare cookie. Meanwhile, healthy food options that are on sale or have discounts are patronized more by consumers than less healthy ones.

3. Normal

To aim for a population that eats healthy, the most nutritious food products should be popularized. This goes with the notion of most people that popular products are the normal ones. (READ: What are the top 20 food products consumed by Filipinos?)

At the household level, if the one tasked to do groceries can purchase more healthy food products more often and put them in more visible places in pantries or refrigerators, it can give a sense of normalcy among family members.

The study, however, identifies the industry of food producers as having the “highest influence” on what is deemed normal. They should then take into consideration the welfare of the consumers as they can alter “consumer behavior.”

“Influencing normative behavior is the easiest, quickest, and most productive way to change consumer behavior,” Wansink explained.

Be more conscious

Despite the CAN approach and the discovery that healthy eating habits are mostly unconsciously instilled, it is possible for people to realize the importance of choosing the right food to eat.

An environment that promotes healthy options can definitely help. But if one consciously chooses to consume more nutritious food, then the population becomes healthier.

If people know how beneficial eating nutritious food is, they will themselves look for what’s best for them.

At the end of the day, especially in the Philippines, we have to work at providing better food options to all people, regardless of socio-economic class. (READ: Happyland meal: Kaldereta ala pagpag–

Fruit photo Photo from Shutterstock.

Be part of the conversation! You may also send your video materials, campaigns, and stories to Be part of the #HungerProject.

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.