A randomised controlled experiment of health, cost and social norm message frames to encourage acceptance of swaps in a virtual supermarket

Amanda Bunten, Lucy Porter, Jet Sanders, Anna Sallis, Sarah Payne Riches, Paul Van Schaik, Marta Gonzalez-Iraizoz, Tim Chadborn, Suzanna Forwood

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Abstract

Offering lower-energy food swaps to customers of online supermarkets could help to decrease energy (kJ/kcal) purchased and consumed. However, acceptance rates of such food swaps tend to be low. This study aimed to see whether framing lower-energy food swaps in terms of cost savings or social norms could improve likelihood of acceptance relative to framing swaps in terms of health benefits. Participants (n = 900) were asked to shop from a 12-item shopping list in a virtual online supermarket. When a target high-energy food was identified in the shopping basket at check-out, one or two lower-energy foods would be suggested as an alternative (a “swap”). Participants were randomised to only see messages emphasising health benefits (fewer calories), cost benefits (lower price) or social norms (others preferred this product). Data were analysed for 713 participants after exclusions. Participants were offered a mean of 3.17 swaps (SD = 1.50), and 12.91% of swaps were accepted (health = 14.31%, cost = 11.49%, social norms = 13.18%). Overall, offering swaps reduced both energy (kcal) per product (b = -9.69, SE = 4.07, p = .017) and energy (kcal) per shopping basket (t712 = 11.09, p < .001) from pre- to post-intervention. Outcomes were not influenced by the specific swap frame used (all p > .170). Age emerged as a significant predictor of swap acceptance (b = 0.02, SE = 0.00, p < .001), but was also associated with smaller decreases in energy change (b = 0.46, SE = .19, p = .014). Offering lower-energy food swaps could be a successful strategy for reducing energy purchased by customers of online supermarkets. Future research should explore alternative solutions for increasing acceptance rates of such swaps.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Jan 2021

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