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“Nudging” Healthy Choices

This past fall, through support from Feeding America and the Cargill Foundation, the Arkansas Foodbank participated in a pilot program to expand or implement at least two nudge interventions at selected partner pantries.

You may be asking yourself, what is a nudge? Feeding America defines a “nudge” as a subtle environment change in a food distribution setting, designed to make a healthy choice the easy choice. Overall, nudges are small, low-cost changes that are made to increase the chances that the people we serve will choose healthier foods. Changes could include placing vegetables in a prominent spot or adding shelf tags that highlight the health benefits of foods.

According to a study conducted by Cornell University’s Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN) and Feeding America, implementation of nudges increased the likelihood a healthy food item was chosen by guests in a pantry setting by 46%.

Similar results were concluded when nudges were implemented at our selected agencies. As various nudges strategies were implemented, it’s hard to tell which one in particular was most successful. Although all of the strategies implemented were successful. Our agencies most favored strategies are captured below.


Nudge Strategy: Order. Order refers to when a healthy item’s location is switched to be at the first of a series of food items offered.



Nudge Strategy: Salience. Salience refers to how clearly a client can see an item. For example, fruits and vegetables are offered in an attractive display. Placement and presentation is proven to influence the way clients view their food options which then affects their choices.



Nudge Strategy: Signage/ Nutrition Labeling. Nutrition Labeling provides information on or near the product that indicates its nutritional quality. Leveraging information offered to clients focuses on the power of information in setting the stage for the decisions clients make in the food pantry.



Nudges are unique compared with other nutrition education efforts because when a person is exposed to a nudge they may not know one is occurring. Nudges are intended to be subtle and/or they do not need to actively choose to participate. In addition, our general nutrition education efforts can occur at any agency, whereas, nudge interventions require a client-choice pantry environment. If your agency is a client choice pantry that is interested in implementing nudges, please refer to the Nudge Readiness Checklist below or email Lauren Allbritton at for more information.


Nudges Readiness Factors Checklist

How do you know if nudge strategies are right for you? Here’s a simple checklist to know:

  • Does the food pantry have a client choice distribution style?
  • Is there a reliable supply of the food item to be nudged?
  • Is there sufficient client demand for healthier foods?
  • Is there an opportunity to nudge perishable healthy foods?
  • Is the cultural appropriateness of the food or the nudge being taken into account?
  • Is there interest in nutrition education but limited funding available?
  • Are different staff or volunteers within the organization aligned on nudges?
  • Are the organization’s policies supportive of using nudges to move healthy foods?


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