Obesity is a big problem in numerous countries around the world. Obesity rates are above 20 percent in every US state, and exceed 35 percent in 3 states (Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi). Every state is expected to reach a rate of at least 44 percent by 2030, and in 13 states, the rate is expected to surpass 60 percent. Across the pond, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that 74 percent of men and 64 percent of women in the UK will be overweight or obese by 2030.
Designer Hayden Peek has an idea that might help: Summarizing the nutritional data of the items purchased on grocery shopping trips into a familiar, easy-to-understand “traffic light system” at the bottom of supermarket receipts. Color-coded labels for calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt could clearly convey at a glance if the food has low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) amounts. If there is a lot of green, the consumer knows they are choosing healthier options, and if there is a lot of red, they know there is room for improvement.
The UK Food Standards Agency developed traffic light labels in 2007, but Peek’s idea to summarize the information and display it on receipts is new. The fact is, grocery shopping decision-making happens in the store, and efforts to change behavior are more effective when presented relative to the point of purchase. A recent case study from Danish supermarket chain Bilka demonstrated this, reinforcing that behavioral economics and choice architecture can be used to supermarkets’ advantage both in terms of encouraging healthy eating and boosting sales. In light of this, Peek’s receipt idea seems even more promising.
“With this information, the complexity of the issue is dismantled and in one simple graphic anybody can get a good idea of how healthy their diet is,” Peek writes on his website. “Imagine a young mum who shops for her family. Week after week, receipt after receipt, the graphics stay red. How long could she ignore this information? How long before it prompts her into action to make some changes?”
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“A particularly good tool would allow users to set their shopping budget and get healthy, personalised recommendations against it. Perhaps settling the debate on whether it's possible to live healthily on a tight budget,” he suggests.
Peek invites those interested in implementing or improving on his idea to contact him.
Meanwhile, many other efforts to fight obesity have been launched. For example, Mexico City is trialling several initiatives including free public transit tickets for people who complete 10 consecutive squats. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is pushing for a sugary drink tax in the UK (and a recent study suggests that proposed sugar and carbon taxes could produce up to £3.6 billion in revenue and reduce emissions by 19 million tonnes).