The science behind healthy lifestyle choices

By sharing information about the health benefits, it is possible to encourage home cooking and reduce unhealthy dietary patterns, and results published in Costa et al. (2018) suggest this new knowledge could contribute to the wider efforts to reduce obesity rates among the population.

We are exposed constantly to offers of calorie-rich, low-price, readily available foods that interfere with efforts to control what we eat. This is described as an obesogenic environment, i.e. our environment actively promotes poor dietary behaviours. As a consequence, it is important to strengthen individuals’ self-regulating powers and promote healthy dietary patterns.

There are three types of responses associated with behavioural modifications:

  1. Motivational - reasons behind a individual’s actions and aimed at increasing willpower
  2. Volitional - when an individual decides on or commits to a course of action
  3. Nudging - where involuntary self-regulating responses are directed

Nudging is known to be more successful at changing behaviours around foods than motivational or volitional responses. Thus, the aim of PRIMEMEAL – funded by the Portuguese Foundation of Science and Technology – was to promote healthier meal choices by first understanding how psychological self-regulating processes work around home cooking, smart meal planning (e.g. using a list to do food shopping) and evaluating restaurant menus.

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