NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Researching How to Change Food Choices

June 5, 2014

According to a report from the Washington Free Beacon, $2 million in taxpayer dollars is going towards a research center to study how the government can change Americans' eating habits.

The Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research would seek studies on how to nudge Americans towards healthier food choices, such as the impact of breaking up combo meals at fast food restaurants.

According to the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) grant announcement, the Center will "facilitate new and innovative research on the application of behavioral economics theory to healthy food choice behaviors that would contribute to enhancing the nutrition, food security, and health of American consumers." With $1.9 million in funding for the program over three years, USDA says that the amount of Americans enrolled in government food programs necessitates such research. In 2013, close to one in four Americans participated in one of the federal government's 15 nutrition assistance programs at some point.

The USDA says that Americans do not make food choices based on pure reason but are instead influenced by food manufacturers and retailers, leading to "decisions that seem to over-value short-term benefits such as the taste or convenience of foods versus long-run benefits such as health."

The Center will study packaging and portion sizes, businesses' marketing and promotion strategies and menu descriptions. Additionally, the USDA has proposed a study to analyze the potential impact of labeling low-sodium and low-fat meals as regular meals, while labeling ordinary meals as high-fat or high-sodium.

The agency wants to use the research to form new regulations.

Source: Elizabeth Harrington, "USDA Creating $1.9 Million Research Center Devoted to Changing American's Food Choices," Washington Free Beacon, June 2, 2014.


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