Effect of default menus on food selection and consumption in a college dining hall simulation study

Cynthia Radnitz, Katharine L. Loeb, Kathleen L. Keller, Kerri Boutelle, Marlene B. Schwartz, Lauren Todd, Sue Marcus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective To test an obesity prevention strategy derived from behavioural economics (optimal defaults plus delay), focused on changing the college dining hall service method.Design After a uniform pre-load, participants attended an experimental lunch in groups randomized to one of three conditions: a nutrient-dense, lower-fat/energy lunch as an optimal default (OD); a less-nutrient-dense, higher-fat/energy lunch as a suboptimal default (SD); or a free array (FA) lunch. In the OD condition, students were presented a menu depicting healthier vegetarian and omnivore foods as default, with opt-out alternatives (SD menu) available on request with a 15 min wait. In the SD condition, the same menu format was used with the positioning of food items switched. In the FA condition, all choices were presented in uniform fonts and were available immediately.Setting Private rooms designed to provide a small version of a college dining hall, on two campuses of a Northeastern US university.Subjects First-year college students (n 129).Results There was a significant main effect for condition on percentage of optimal choices selected, with 94 % of food choices in the OD condition optimal, 47 % in the FA condition optimal and none in the SD condition optimal. Similarly, energy intake for those in the SD condition significantly exceeded that in the FA condition, which exceeded that in the OD condition.Conclusions Presenting menu items as optimal defaults with a delay had a significant impact on choice and consumption, suggesting that further research into its long-term applicability is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1359-1369
Number of pages11
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
Issue number7
StatePublished - May 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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