University of Pittsburgh researcher says study shows shoppers can be prompted to make healthier food choices | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

University of Pittsburgh researcher says study shows shoppers can be prompted to make healthier food choices

A six-month study looked at NuVal, which gives food products a single-number score

Many people are trying to buy healthier foods. But, says Jeffrey Inman, a marketing professor and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, anecdotal evidence suggests shoppers can be confused by nutritional labels. "Then I began hearing about these new programs where they would take all of the nutritional facts and information and roll them up into a single number, and there was just something intrinsically interesting about that."

So Inman partnered with a Northeast grocery retailer to study the habits of 535,000 shoppers. For the next six months, the stores rolled out a single-number grading system called NuVal, which takes the nutritional information from 90,000 products and assigns a score between one and 100 (100 being the healthiest). The scores were then displayed on shelves under products in eight different categories — frozen pizza, tomato products, soup, salad dressing, yogurt, spaghetti sauce, granola bars and ice cream.

Inman found that when given the single-number nutritional value, shoppers would make healthier choices and, according to the data, the healthiness of their purchases increased by 21 percent on average.

But rolling these rating systems out on a large scale could prove challenging. Inman explains food retailers and manufacturers aren't likely to pay for something that could affect their profitability. "If I'm in the business of making healthy products, I'm really into this system; but if I'm not, then I probably don't want to see it."

"What this shows is that these simplified nutritional systems have a positive effect on the healthiness of a shopper's basket, and that's a good thing," Inman adds. "There has been talk that NuVal might turn this into an app. But my fear is that the person who would buy this app is already health-conscious, and it likely wouldn't reach the people who need it most."

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