Making healthy food choices is not easy in an environment where high-calorie foods are easily available and highly visible. One way of encouraging healthier eating is to provide information about the healthy eating habits of others, says new research from the University of Birmingham.

Researchers from the four-year study found that informing university students that their peers are actually eating small amounts of 'junk food' reduces students' junk food choices. Similarly, informing students who did not eat much fruit and vegetables that their peers eat more of these foods than they might think prompts healthier food intake. Moreover, merely being told that other people enjoyed eating vegetables increased the likelihood of study participants selecting broccoli to eat, and this effect lasted for at least 24 hours.

The data from these laboratorybased studies were used to design an intervention to promote purchase of vegetables with lunch in a workplace restaurant. "The evidence suggests that social norms can be used to promote the selection of nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables wherever people may select or consume food, including supermarkets and cafeterias and schools," explains researcher Suzanne Higgs, Professor in the Psychobiology of Appetite.