Industry experts are urging businesses to proactively address statistics which show that two in three UK adults are now overweight or obese – and the science of nudging could be the secret to making it happen.

The issue is back in the news after Ansaf Azhar, Corporate Director of Public Health at Oxfordshire County Council, called for a partnership approach to the problem. One that involves authorities and employers alike, to promote healthy and affordable food.

After all, poor health has a big impact on the workplace, whether that is on happiness, confidence, productivity, or absenteeism. With individuals spending an average of 90,000 hours of their adult lives at work, businesses have a unique opportunity to utilise the workplace as a catalyst for positive change.

But how do you persuade consumers to change their habits? Shouting from posters or running extensive education campaigns has enjoyed only limited success. So, is it time to try something different?

Psychotherapist, Khody Damestani, who has advised workplace caterer Eurest, believes that the key lies in ‘nudging’, a philosophy backed by increasing amounts of academic research. He says: 

When it comes to helping employees make healthier decisions, it’s worth bearing in mind that it is more difficult to change someone’s mind, or their perception, than it is to help them make a choice.

Khody Damestani, Psychotherapist

As a result, Eurest has proactively integrated nudging techniques into its food services for businesses across the UK, to enhance the wellbeing of workers. It uses clever techniques to ‘nudge’ people into making healthier and more sustainable choices. For instance by putting healthy options first on the menu and counter, increasing plant-based options and making healthy options more appealing.

‘Nudging methods’ include:

1 Cognitive nudging 

Cognitive nudging uses evaluative information to influence habits including those relating to health, wellbeing and even sustainability. Eurest’s products now feature colour coded eco-labels which rate products from A-E based on their environmental impact, for example.

2 Affective or emotional nudging

Affective or emotional nudging aims to change people’s feelings by using clever techniques to modify their environment.

3 Behavioural nudges 

Behavioural nudges involve strategies which make it effortless for people to make healthier decisions. For example, placing the more nutritious options at the front and centre of counters and streamlining menus to promote better choices.

4 The default nudge

Default nudging removes effort from decision-making altogether, making it highly effective. The government’s “opt-out” organ donation system, for instance, increased donations as people are less likely to consciously opt out.

Research confirms that default nudges are successful as people naturally choose the path of least resistance.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.