Research Your Resolution: Use Food Placement to Set Yourself Up for Weight Loss Success


Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Anne Thorndike, MD
Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH

Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, is an investigator in the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her research uses the principles of behavioral economics to develop strategies to encourage healthy food choices at home, in the workplace and in community settings. To learn more about her work, please visit her physician profile page.

Sticking to a healthy diet is difficult when you are exposed to unhealthy food choices on every street corner, restaurant, shelf and snack drawer.

It is even more difficult to make healthy food choices when you are busy, hungry, stressed or tired.

Using “point-of-purchase” nutrition information, such as menu calorie labels, and restructuring your home food environment are two strategies that can help you achieve your New Year’s goals.

For example, if that burrito you are thinking about for lunch has 1,000 calories, maybe it isn’t the best choice—it will give you approximately half a day’s worth of calories if you are a man, and more than half if you are a woman.

At home, you can engineer your kitchen to make healthy foods more convenient—and unhealthy foods harder to reach.

Put healthy snacks at eye level on the shelf, and hide the cookies on the top shelf.  Better yet, don’t even bring the cookies into the house!

Our research in the cafeterias at Mass General showed that labeling foods with simple traffic-light labels (red=unhealthy; green=healthy), and placing healthy foods in highly visible and convenient locations prompted cafeteria customers to make more healthy food choices (e.g. bottled water, salads) and fewer unhealthy items (e.g. soda, pizza).

In other research, we showed that placing fresh fruits and vegetables near the front of small urban food stores increased produce purchases by low-income families.

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