Can 25 Seconds Make a Healthy Difference?

Brad Appelhans, an associate professor of preventative medicine at Rush University Medical Center, thinks that waiting for snacks decreases demand. He has designed an add-on to vending machines that decides which products are released immediately and which force the buyer to wait 25 seconds. Healthy foods you get instantly. Less than healthy – those you’ll have to wait for. While 25 seconds may not seem a long time to wait, his premise is that “every second you spend waiting for a snack will make you want it less.” He just released a study at this year’s Society of Behavioral Medicine.

It’s called DISC, or "Delays to Influence Snack Choice," and the device is a platform inserted inside a vending machine that catches snacks falling from the top half of the machine (where the unhealthy snacks are placed) on the front of the vending machine; a sign tells customers they'll have to wait for an extra 25 seconds for less healthy snacks. The healthy snacks are positioned in the lower half and do not fall on the 25-second delay platform. 

The "healthy" snacks had to meet criteria such as packing fewer than 250 calories, 350 milligrams of sodium or 10 milligrams of added sugars per serving; containing no trans fats; or getting less than 35 percent of their calories from fat.   

Appelhans' research was conducted over several months during which he tested different price points, and top line, people started going for more healthy snacks. He reported that when the delay was implemented, "we saw a roughly 5 percent change in the proportion of healthy snack" sales. He adds that was roughly the same increase in sales as what he saw when he lowered the price of healthy snacks by 25 cents in the vending machines – with no time delay on unhealthy snacks.  

While the controversy over soda and sugar taxes continues, this could be a viable alternative without the political nightmare. Appelhans adds, "Unlike the discount" -- or reverse tax, if you will – "the delays didn't harm the overall revenues of the machine. Places want people to have more nutrition, but they don't want to lose revenue. So the time delay might be a nice way to have it both ways." 

Just imagine an express lane for healthier foods only.

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