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USDA Establishes Behavioral Research Program

USDA Establishes Behavioral Research Program

Research seeks ways school environment can support healthy food choices.

USDA is investing $2 million in support of a series of research awards to improve nutrition and health outcomes associated with participation in USDA Child Nutrition Programs. The awards established a major new university-based research center, the Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and fund 14 other research projects in Connecticut, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

USDA says this research can suggest practical, cost-effective ways that the school environment can better support healthful choices.  For example, students may value the present over the future, making it hard to turn down today's tasty treat for the sake of long-term health.  But research suggests we can support good intentions via the use of a pre-paid card that only allows students to purchase healthy options from the school cafeteria.

Across the nation, many schools are already taking steps to provide students with healthier meals and the nutrition knowledge to make healthier choices.  However, it is well recognized that understanding the value of a healthy diet does not always translate into healthy choices.  Research has shown that good intentions may not be enough: when choosing what or how much to eat, we may be unconsciously influenced by how offers are framed, by various incentives, and by such factors as visual cues. 

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