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How to change people's behaviour? Make the desired behaviour easy and fun!

Thursday, October 29, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD
Not that long ago I discussed how making certain behaviours such as being physically active and eating a healthy diet easier or more fun increases the chances that these behaviours are adopted by most people. For example, the use of cell phone texts to prompt you to park further from the grocery store door or to choose veggies over chips was shown to lead to some weight loss. Also, the video I posted a while back on the Piano Stairs, which has since gone viral, clearly shows that if the healthy choice becomes the easy or more attractive choice, people are more likely to take it.

I just got back from the 2009 annual meeting of the Obesity Society in Washnigton D.C., where I had the great pleasure to meet with many friends and colleagues such as Dr. Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters blog as well as Dr. Arya Sharma of Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes blog.

While at the conference hotel, I was once again struck by how difficult it can be to make the healthy choice. For example, I had to ask the concierge where the stairs were so I could walk the 4 flights to my room instead of taking one of the 8 prominently displayed elevators. It turned out the stairwell wasn’t even marked – it was behind an unmarked door in the seating area of one of the cafes. Thus, it was virtually impossible for anyone to be able to take the stairs even if they wanted to (unless they were as oddly persistent as me). Additionally, the hotel restaurant basically had 1 option for breakfast – a buffet including plenty of high fat favourites such as sausages and bacon and lots of sugary cakes, muffins, cupcakes, not to mention “Vitamin D” milk which in fact had the same amount of vitamin D as the fat free variety but contained 70 kcals of fat in one serving (I guess “Fat Milk” doesn’t sound as enticing).

It turns out that the folks who created the Piano Stairs video have also tested their “Fun Theory” in other ways, so I thought I would share 2 more examples of how “fun and easy” leads to behaviour change. Below you will see two neat approaches to get people to throw garbage into a trash bin and to recycle bottles (email subscribers need to log onto Obesity Panacea to view). As I discussed with Dr. Freedhoff (while we waited at the airport for our delayed flights out of DC) – I believe this is the way that we may be able to get people to become more active and eating healthy – by making small but effective changes to their environment. Simply telling people to follow current guidelines for diet or physical activity when our environment is set up to make these behaviours impossible is not only short-sighted but frankly useless.

Enjoy the videos.


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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