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Modeling Expert Opinions on Food Healthiness: A Nutrition Metric


  • Jolie Mae Martin

    (Harvard Business School)

  • John Leonard Beshears

    (Harvard Business School)

  • Katherine Lyford Milkman

    (Harvard Business School)

  • Max H. Bazerman

    (Harvard Business School, Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit)

  • Lisa Sutherland

    (Dartmouth Medical School, Department of Pediatrics)


Background Research over the last several decades indicates the failure of existing nutritional labels to substantially improve the healthiness of consumers' food and beverage choices. The difficulty for policy-makers is to encapsulate a wide body of scientific knowledge in a labeling scheme that is comprehensible to the average shopper. Here, we describe our method of developing a nutrition metric to fill this void. Methods We asked leading nutrition experts to rate the healthiness of 205 sample foods and beverages, and after verifying the similarity of their responses, we generated a model that calculates the expected average healthiness rating that experts would give to any other product based on its nutrient content. Results The form of the model is a linear regression that places weights on 12 nutritional components (total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron) to predict the average healthiness rating that experts would give to any food or beverage. We provide sample predictions for other items in our database. Conclusions Major benefits of the model include its basis in expert judgment, its straightforward application, the flexibility of transforming its output ratings to any linear scale, and its ease of interpretation. This metric serves the purpose of distilling expert knowledge into a form usable by consumers so that they are empowered to make healthier decisions.

Suggested Citation

  • Jolie Mae Martin & John Leonard Beshears & Katherine Lyford Milkman & Max H. Bazerman & Lisa Sutherland, 2008. "Modeling Expert Opinions on Food Healthiness: A Nutrition Metric," Harvard Business School Working Papers 08-082, Harvard Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:08-082

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Russo, J Edward, et al, 1986. "Nutrition Information in the Supermarket," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 48-70, June.
    2. Moorman, Christine, 1990. "The Effects of Stimulus and Consumer Characteristics on the Utilization of Nutrition Information," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(3), pages 362-374, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Katherine Milkman & Todd Rogers & Max Bazerman, 2010. "I’ll have the ice cream soon and the vegetables later: A study of online grocery purchases and order lead time," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 21(1), pages 17-35, March.

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