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The Formation and Malleability of Dietary Habits: A Field Experiment with Low Income Families


  • Belot, Michèle

    () (European University Institute)

  • Berlin, Noemi

    () (University Paris Ouest-Nanterre)

  • James, Jonathan

    () (University of Bath)

  • Skafida, Valeria

    () (University of Edinburgh)


We conduct a field experiment to evaluate the extent to which dietary habits are malleable early on in childhood and later in life. We implement two treatments one that targets what people eat, the other that targets the timing and frequency of food intake. 285 low income families with young children were recruited and assigned either to a control group or one of the two treatments, each of them lasting for 12 consecutive weeks. In one treatment, families received food groceries at home for free for 12 weeks and were asked to prepare five specific healthy meals per week. In the other treatment, families were simply asked to reduce snacking and eat at regular times. We collected a range of measures of food preferences, dietary intake, as well as BMI and biomarkers based on blood samples. We find evidence that children's BMI distribution shifted significantly relative to the control group, i.e. they became relatively "thinner". We also find some evidence that their preferences have been affected by both treatments. On the other hand, we find little evidence of effects on parents. We conclude that exposure to a healthy diet and regularity of food intake possibly play a role in shaping dietary habits, but influencing dietary choices later on in life remains a major challenge.

Suggested Citation

  • Belot, Michèle & Berlin, Noemi & James, Jonathan & Skafida, Valeria, 2018. "The Formation and Malleability of Dietary Habits: A Field Experiment with Low Income Families," IZA Discussion Papers 11317, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11317

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Beydoun, May A. & Wang, Youfa, 2009. "Parent-child dietary intake resemblance in the United States: Evidence from a large representative survey," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(12), pages 2137-2144, June.
    2. Drichoutis, Andreas & Lazaridis, Panagiotis & Nayga, Rodolfo, 2009. "A model of nutrition information search with an application to food labels," Working Papers 2009-02, Agricultural University of Athens, Department Of Agricultural Economics.
    3. Capacci, Sara & Mazzocchi, Mario, 2011. "Five-a-day, a price to pay: An evaluation of the UK program impact accounting for market forces," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 87-98, January.
    4. 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.
    5. Vidmar, Suzanna & Carlin, John B. & Hesketh, Kylie & Cole, Tim, 2004. "Standardizing anthropometric measures in children and adolescents with new functions for egen," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 4(1), pages 1-6.
    6. Suzanna Vidmar & John Carlin & Kylie Hesketh & Tim Cole, 2004. "Standardizing anthropometric measures in children and adolescents with new functions for egen," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 4(1), pages 50-55, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sadoff, Sally & Samek, Anya, 2019. "Can interventions affect commitment demand? A field experiment on food choice," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 158(C), pages 90-109.
    2. Hinnosaar, Marit, 2018. "How long do healthy habits last? The role of prices," CEPR Discussion Papers 12815, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item


    diet; field experiments; habit formation; biomarkers;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health

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