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A Field Experiment on the Impact of Incentives on Milk Choice in the Lunchroom


  • John List
  • Anya Samek


Almost a third of US children ages 2-19 are deemed overweight or obese, and part of the problem is the habitual decision to consume high calorie, low nutrient foods. We propose that the school lunchroom provides a 'teachable moment' to engage children in making healthful choices. We conduct a field experiment with over 1,500 participants in grades K-8 and evaluate the impact of small non-monetary incentives on the selection of milk in the school lunchroom. At baseline, only 16% of children select white milk relative to 84% choosing chocolate milk. We find a significant effect of incentives, which increase white milk selection by 2.5 times, to 40%. One concern with incentives is that they may decrease intrinsic motivation to eat healthy, called 'crowd-out of intrinsic motivation.' However, we do not find evidence of 'crowd-out'; rather, we see some suggestive evidence of the positive habit forming effect of incentives.

Suggested Citation

  • John List & Anya Samek, 2014. "A Field Experiment on the Impact of Incentives on Milk Choice in the Lunchroom," Natural Field Experiments 00428, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00428

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hanks, Andrew S. & Just, David R. & Wansink, Brian, 2012. "Trigger Foods: The Influence of “Irrelevant†Alternatives in School Lunchrooms," Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(1), pages 114-123, April.
    2. John Cawley & Joshua A. Price, 2011. "Outcomes in a Program that Offers Financial Rewards for Weight Loss," NBER Chapters, in: Economic Aspects of Obesity, pages 91-126, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Uri Gneezy & Aldo Rustichini, 2000. "Pay Enough or Don't Pay at All," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 791-810.
    4. Uri Gneezy & Stephan Meier & Pedro Rey-Biel, 2011. "When and Why Incentives (Don't) Work to Modify Behavior," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(4), pages 191-210, Fall.
    5. David R. Just & Joseph Price, 2013. "Using Incentives to Encourage Healthy Eating in Children," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 48(4), pages 855-872.
    6. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 675-700, August.
    7. repec:mpr:mprres:6257 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Hanks, Andrew S. & Just, David R. & Wansink, Brian, 2012. "Trigger Foods: The Influence of “Irrelevant” Alternatives in School Lunchrooms," Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association, vol. 41(1), pages 1-10, April.
    9. Just, David R. & Mancino, Lisa & Wansink, Brian, 2007. "Could Behavioral Economics Help Improve Diet Quality for Nutrition Assistance Program Participants?," Economic Research Report 6391, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    10. repec:mpr:mprres:5077 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. List, John A. & Samek, Anya Savikhin, 2015. "The behavioralist as nutritionist: Leveraging behavioral economics to improve child food choice and consumption," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 135-146.
    12. Cawley, John & Price, Joshua A., 2013. "A case study of a workplace wellness program that offers financial incentives for weight loss," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 794-803.
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    Cited by:

    1. Angelucci, Manuela & Prina, Silvia & Royer, Heather & Samek, Anya, 2015. "When Incentives Backfire: Spillover Effects in Food Choice," IZA Discussion Papers 9288, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Chien‐Yu Lai & John A List & Anya Samek, 2020. "Got Milk? Using Nudges to Reduce Consumption of Added Sugar," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 102(1), pages 154-168, January.
    3. Samek, Anya, 2019. "Gifts and goals: Behavioral nudges to improve child food choice at school," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 164(C), pages 1-12.
    4. Kurz, Verena, 2018. "Nudging to reduce meat consumption: Immediate and persistent effects of an intervention at a university restaurant," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 317-341.
    5. Kurz, Verena, 2017. "Nudging to reduce meat consumption: Immediate and persistent effects of an intervention at a university restaurant," Working Papers in Economics 712, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.

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