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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Healthy food choices don’t hurt concession stands

food and brand lab, concession stand makeoverWe’re all well aware of the obesity epidemic our nation is facing and of the accompanying health risks. We also know that an important part of combatting childhood obesity is to offer healthy food choices. That being the case, why not sell nutritious items at high school concession stands during games? That’s the question that Helena Laroche of the University of Iowa and her colleagues set out to answer.

To begin with, it’s important to note that concession stands make up a very important source of revenue for their schools, helping to fund student organizations and sports teams. Clubs running the food stands can be reluctant to change the menu for fear of hurting sales. Not only could spectators fail to buy healthier snacks, but seeing them on the menu might drive people away from the concession stand all together. 

To see if that was the case, researchers collected data from concession stands in one Iowa High School (1700 students) over two seasons. The first year, the stand offered its usual menu. The second year, the usual foods were sold along with some healthier variations (nachos made without trans fats, for example) plus some new items including fruits and vegetables. None of the new items contained trans fats, and all had been selected from a preference survey given to students and parents.

Profits from the concession stands did not differ between the two years. In other words, having healthy choices did not deter people from buying snacks. So far so good. But were people selecting the healthier options? They were. About 9% of the total revenue was due to the purchase of the new, healthier items. More importantly, sales for those healthier choices continued to increase game after game, indicating that the public liked having them on the menu.

Author Brian Wansink of Cornell University exuberantly explains:

Laroche, H., Ford, C., Hansen, K., Cai, X., Just, D., Hanks, A., & Wansink, B. (2014). Concession stand makeovers: a pilot study of offering healthy foods at high school concession stands Journal of Public Health DOI: 10.1093/pubmed/fdu015.

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