The Innovation Lab behavioural science project on Improving Healthy Choices in a Hospital Canteen.

Situation: We worked with a client interested in understanding and ultimately supporting healthier food choices of hospital staff in hospital restaurants or canteens. The client and other government stakeholders wanted to offer healthier options for staff in the restaurants but were worried that if staff didn’t choose the options, they would lose money from an already-tight budget and that food would go to waste.

Objective: We hoped that, by working together, we would all learn more about ‘what works’ to nudge healthier choices in canteen environments, uncover barriers and facilitators to making healthier food choices particular to staff working in a NI hospital, and come up with a variety of ideas to test in the hospital canteen setting.

What we did: The project started with a literature review of Randomised Control Trials (RCT) done in canteen settings where the goal was to prompt the choice of healthier options. A survey was sent to staff in one hospital and two follow-up focus groups were conducted to explore barriers and facilitators to choosing healthier options. The research was brought together into a one-day design workshop with stakeholders from the hospital food system and different government departments. We also piloted one intervention from the academic literature – taste-focused food labels – to see how the intervention would work in practice.

What happened: We learned a lot about the small and large barriers hospital employees face when making choices in hospital canteens. At the end of the workshop, participants had generated and ranked over 100 ideas designed to help overcome some of those barriers. We shared what we learned with all stakeholders and made suggestions for short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to test. We learned about the complexity of understanding ‘what works’ in a live environment and the challenges of access to accurate data to help.

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