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Appetite. 2017 Jun 1;113:368-375. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.02.039. Epub 2017 Feb 28.

The application of defaults to optimize parents' health-based choices for children.

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Fairleigh Dickinson University, School of Psychology, 1000 River Road, T-WH1-01, Teaneck, NJ 07666, USA. Electronic address:
Fairleigh Dickinson University, School of Psychology, 1000 River Road, T-WH1-01, Teaneck, NJ 07666, USA.
Pennsylvania State University, Department of Nutritional Sciences and Food Science, 321 Chandlee Laboratory, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
University of Connecticut, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, 1 Constitution Plaza, Suite 600, Hartford, CT 06103, USA.
Independent Statistical Consultant, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY, USA.
Northern New Jersey Community Foundation, Englewood, NJ, USA.


Optimal defaults is a compelling model from behavioral economics and the psychology of human decision-making, designed to shape or "nudge" choices in a positive direction without fundamentally restricting options. The current study aimed to test the effectiveness of optimal (less obesogenic) defaults and parent empowerment priming on health-based decisions with parent-child (ages 3-8) dyads in a community-based setting. Two proof-of-concept experiments (one on breakfast food selections and one on activity choice) were conducted comparing the main and interactive effects of optimal versus suboptimal defaults, and parent empowerment priming versus neutral priming, on parents' health-related choices for their children. We hypothesized that in each experiment, making the default option more optimal will lead to more frequent health-oriented choices, and that priming parents to be the ultimate decision-makers on behalf of their child's health will potentiate this effect. Results show that in both studies, default condition, but not priming condition or the interaction between default and priming, significantly predicted choice (healthier vs. less healthy option). There was also a significant main effect for default condition (and no effect for priming condition or the interaction term) on the quantity of healthier food children consumed in the breakfast experiment. These pilot studies demonstrate that optimal defaults can be practicably implemented to improve parents' food and activity choices for young children. Results can inform policies and practices pertaining to obesogenic environmental factors in school, restaurant, and home environments.


Child; Choice behavior; Eating behavior; Optimal defaults; Parents

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