The application of defaults to optimize parents' health-based choices for children

Katharine L. Loeb, Cynthia Radnitz, Kathleen Keller, Marlene B. Schwartz, Sue Marcus, Richard N. Pierson, Michael Shannon, Danielle DeLaurentis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Optimal defaults is a compelling model from behavioral economics and the psychology of human decision-making, designed to shape or “nudge” choices in a positive direction without fundamentally restricting options. The current study aimed to test the effectiveness of optimal (less obesogenic) defaults and parent empowerment priming on health-based decisions with parent-child (ages 3–8) dyads in a community-based setting. Two proof-of-concept experiments (one on breakfast food selections and one on activity choice) were conducted comparing the main and interactive effects of optimal versus suboptimal defaults, and parent empowerment priming versus neutral priming, on parents' health-related choices for their children. We hypothesized that in each experiment, making the default option more optimal will lead to more frequent health-oriented choices, and that priming parents to be the ultimate decision-makers on behalf of their child's health will potentiate this effect. Results show that in both studies, default condition, but not priming condition or the interaction between default and priming, significantly predicted choice (healthier vs. less healthy option). There was also a significant main effect for default condition (and no effect for priming condition or the interaction term) on the quantity of healthier food children consumed in the breakfast experiment. These pilot studies demonstrate that optimal defaults can be practicably implemented to improve parents' food and activity choices for young children. Results can inform policies and practices pertaining to obesogenic environmental factors in school, restaurant, and home environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-375
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


Dive into the research topics of 'The application of defaults to optimize parents' health-based choices for children'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this