Seriously, What is a Calorie?: Using Incentive Appeals and Old-School Techniques to Give Value to the Intangible Nutrition Fact

Fear appeals seldom work in behavior change because, quite frankly, no one knows what it feels like to die. So even when we’re presented with tame fear appeals, like cigarette warning labels that read “may cause lung cancer” or nutrition facts listing high sodium or calorie counts, we shrug it off because we can’t “see” their effects on our weakened lungs or struggling heart (like we could see, say, the results of a broken arm or tattoo). The idea of cigarette tar or a calorie poses no threat to me because I can’t even fathom what it is in its basic form—much less what it may do to my body.

So what if, instead of threatening my life, the appeal threatened my quality of life by actually showing me the threat’s impact on the things that I deem most important? Suddenly, our “out of sight, out of mind” mantra shifts to “I’m still not convinced this thing will kill me in the future, but I understand that it will definitely infringe on my freedom/time/appearance/friends’ approval today!”

Check out the new research from Johns Hopkins University that builds upon this idea:

  • For 6 weeks, researchers posted signs near soda refrigerators in Baltimore stores that told purchasers it would take 50 minutes of running or 5 miles of walking to burn off the 250 calories in the soda they were about to buy.
  • Their report shows a decrease in the number of sodas purchased and an increase in the purchase of smaller sodas (click to see a great infographic of this experiment).
  • The results? Forty percent of those interviewed who noticed the signs said the information changed their decision about what they would buy.
  • Even better? The purchasing effects lasted 6 weeks after the signs were taken down.

But knowledge-increasing and behavior-nudging tools, like the researchers’ posters, are not new, you say. After all, app developers have bottled this idea before and applied it to some of our favorite mobile app downloads, showing us how poor diet decisions will eat away at our daily share of calories and how many Empire State Buildings we have “climbed” when we opt to use the stairs.

Infographic of comparison between calorie information and real-world impact of calories consumed.

The problem? Pulling out a phone and scanning the bar code of a soda to see what impact it will have on my life is an added barrier for those for whom “getting fit” is not top-of-mind and who would buy the drink without thinking twice. For these people, who are literally holding the information-laden nutrition facts in their hands, information is not power. “Calorie” does not mean anything, so its threat falls flat.

For that reason, I really like the researchers’ use, here, of “old-school” techniques (posters, for crying out loud!) to nudge buyers at the point-of-purchase. The purchase power is still in their hands and they still can choose to ignore the sign without taking additional actions, but now “calorie” has more meaning. Nearly everyone buying the soda will see the poster and be reminded how far and time-consuming a 5-mile walk is—finally giving that calorie a face and value. Their soda-purchasing behaviors may not change but, who knows, maybe it will influence their potato-chip intake or TV time or miles walked later. At least now we’ve presented them with information that actually may be relevant to their day-to-day life instead of continuing to list that intangible, not-so-threatening calorie count and expecting it to do all the work.

What do calories “look” like to you? What nudges you to make healthier decisions? Have you seen fear appeals or “old-school” message techniques with positive outcomes?

By Katy Capers


Danya Helps You Make Every Day a Healthy One with 2014 Calendar

Health Days CalendarDanya International recently released its first health observances calendar, available in print and online. The calendar highlights nearly 60 health observances throughout 2014, providing interactive ways to learn more about each observance and ways to support the health days.

The calendar, developed in cross-collaboration with team members from creative services and digital communication, was the brainchild of Janice Nall, managing director of Danya’s Atlanta office.

“We wanted to create a beautiful health observance calendar that public health advocates, like us, either could hang in their offices or interact with on their browsers. And I believe the team achieved that,” said Nall.

Beyond developing an easily navigable at-a-glance tool, the Danya team hopes the calendar will become a part of the preparation process when public health professionals plan events and promotional messaging in support of national and global health observances.

Richard Russell, associate director of creative services and the creator of the calendar’s theme, said, “Our thinking is that sometimes visuals are the best way to remind us of why we show up every day—to prevent and eventually eradicate diseases that affect our communities and world. To make every day a healthy one.”

To download and print Danya’s 2014 health observance calendar, visit If you recently received/downloaded the calendar and you’re looking for creative ways to hang up the poster in your office, check out this six-second tutorial produced by the Danya team.

Keep up with how Danya is making every day a healthy one by following the #healthdays conversation on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

By Kianta Key

Mobile Tools for Nutrition Month

I am a person who has struggled with weight issues for most of my life so, like many of you, I have heard every weight loss and nutrition tip in the book. My doctor has suggested that I join a support group like Weight Watchers and start going back to the gym. She has also suggested it might be helpful if I read some health and nutrition literature, started calorie counting, and ate more meals at home. These are all great ideas that have proven to work for others in the past but, after a lifelong struggle, I knew that traditional methods for losing weight didn’t necessarily work for me.

I stay pretty busy, both in my personal and professional lives, so I am on the go and I need tools and resources that move with me. I know what changes I need to make: Eat less and exercise more. But how do I do it? When do I find the time? With so much information out there about what to eat and what not to eat, how do I decipher what is truly the best approach? Well, like 31 percent of mobile users, I decided to turn to the mobile universe to help me on my quest.  In honor of March’s National Nutrition Month, I have compiled some of my favorite tools that have helped me in my nutrition journey so far.

Get Advice from Experts
My doctors recommended I see a nutritionist, but I don’t necessarily have access to one as often as I like. One mobile application (app) from Bakedweb brings a registered nutritionist right to my device. I can take note of the meals I am eating, and then receive an analysis from a dietician who will offer advice about what habits will help me to lose weight and stay healthy.

foodeducatedRead Labels

Fooducate is a mobile app that won first place in the United States Surgeon General’s Healthy Apps Challenge. It provides label information and allows you to learn more about what’s in your food. Fooducate boasts the largest database of product codes and provides food details on more than 200,000 products. I can look at serving size, ingredients, and calories to decide what foods make sense for my nutritional goals.

Track Calories

With Livestrong’s Calorie Tracker Lite, I have the ability to track both calories and my exercise routine within one mobile app. CDC noted on their site that “When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight for a lifetime, the bottom line is – calories count!”  There are a number of calorie trackers out there, but I like this one because has a strong history of developing nutritional products that help with lifestyle changes. This particular tool keeps me motivated because it is easy to use, free (a paid version is also available), and includes a support forum to help me with nutritional questions. Livestrong has included a great mobile rewards component that provides additional incentives for me to use the app and make better food choices.

Stay Healthy When Eating Outdiet mobile

Making my meals instead of eating out is always the healthier option. But when I am out, the HealthyOut mobile app helps me find restaurants with better food choices more easily. I can search for specific dishes, calories, or common dietary needs, like “heart healthy” or “gluten free,” and the app will direct me to the nearest location. This is especially helpful when I’m in unfamiliar neighborhoods or traveling.

With these digital resources, I have already lost 22 pounds by using tools that make sense for my lifestyle. It’s been tough, but I will continue to look for innovative resources that help me reach my goals. Are you looking to make healthier food choices? What digital tools are helping you reach your goals?

By Tracye Poole