The effects of nudges on purchases, food choice, and energy intake or content of purchases in real-life food purchasing environments: A systematic review and evidence synthesis

Marjolein C. Harbers*, Joline W.J. Beulens, Femke Rutters, Femke De Boer, Marleen Gillebaart, Ivonne Sluijs, Yvonne T. Van Der Schouw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Adults with a low socioeconomic position (SEP) are more likely to engage in unhealthy diets as compared to adults with high SEP. However, individual-level educational interventions aiming to improve food choices have shown limited effectiveness in adults with low SEP. Environmental-level interventions such as nudging strategies however, may be more likely to benefit low SEP groups. We aimed to review the evidence for the effectiveness of nudges as classified according to interventions in proximal physical micro-environments typology (TIPPME) to promote healthy purchases, food choice, or affecting energy intake or content of purchases, within real-life food purchasing environments. Second, we aimed to investigate the potentially moderating role of SEP. Methods: We systematically searched PubMed, EMBASE, and PsycINFO until 31 January 2018. Studies were considered eligible for inclusion when they i) complied with TIPPME intervention definitions; ii) studied actual purchases, food choice, or energy intake or content of purchases, iii) and were situated in real-life food purchasing environments. Risk of bias was assessed using a quality assessment tool and evidence was synthesized using harvest plots. Results: From the 9210 references identified, 75 studies were included. Studies were generally of weak to moderate quality. The most frequently studied nudges were information (56%), mixed (24%), and position nudges (13%). Harvest plots showed modest tendencies towards beneficial effects on outcomes for information and position nudges. Less evidence was available for other TIPPME nudging interventions for which the harvest plots did not show compelling patterns. Only six studies evaluated the effects of nudges across levels of SEP (e.g., educational level, food security status, job type). Although there were some indications that nudges were more effective in low SEP groups, the limited amount of evidence and different proxies of SEP used warrant caution in the interpretation of findings. Conclusions: Information and position nudges may contribute to improving population dietary behaviours. Evidence investigating the moderating role of SEP was limited, although some studies reported greater effects in low SEP subgroups. We conclude that more high-quality studies obtaining detailed data on participant's SEP are needed. Registration: This systematic review is registered in the PROSPERO database (CRD42018086983).

Original languageEnglish
Article number103
Number of pages27
JournalNutrition Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2020


  • Choice architecture
  • Nudging
  • Socioeconomic position


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