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  • Writer's pictureJulie de Vaan

Making healthier food choices in the sports canteen with behavioral change

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Manicipality of Venlo, GGD Limburg Noord, JOGG, Clubtotaal

2016 - 2017


  • Can behavior change contribute to healthier food choices in sports canteens?

  • How do you encourage healthy food choices in practice without changing the offer?


  • We investigate how food choices are made in the sports canteen and which factors influence this.

  • Based on that, we develop and test interventions to encourage healthy choices.


  • A significant effect of behavioral interventions on food choices, without changing the offer. In three of the four canteens, the purchase of healthy choices increases.



Obesity is a growing problem in the Netherlands. This is also the case in the North Limburg region, where more than half of the population is overweight. The sports canteen is a location where unhealthy food choices are often made. That's why local municipalities, GGD, and JOGG are focusing on promoting healthier options in sports canteens.

However, simply changing the food offer is often not enough to encourage healthy food choices. Additionally, not all sports clubs are willing or able to change the offer in their canteens.

In addition to changing the offer, behavioral sciences provide other promising solutions for promoting healthy food choices. Therefore, we are investigating to what extent other (small) modifications in the environment, also known as nudges, can help stimulate healthier food choices in sports canteens.


Our behavioral science approach focuses on understanding how people make choices and how their environment influences these choices. Therefore, we first investigate how food choices are made in sports canteens and which factors influence them. This research consists of:

Literature review

A comprehensive behavioral science literature review is conducted, gathering relevant knowledge, theories, and factors from psychology and the latest research on behavior and food choices.


36 semi-structured interviews are conducted with individuals involved in the practical aspects, such as young people, bar staff, and association boards. The aim is to understand why they do or do not make healthy choices or promote them in sports canteens.


8 observations are made in canteens of local sports associations. The behavior of visitors and the layout of the canteens are analyzed.


A questionnaire is administered to 204 members of sports associations, consisting of closed-ended questions about behavior and the environment. The data is analyzed to determine the extent to which factors from the literature, interviews, and observations influence choices.

Pilot en effect measurement

Interventions are developed using behavior change techniques that target the key factors identified in the research. These nudges, which can be directly applied in practice, are tested for six months in different associations. An impact measurement is conducted to determine which nudges are most effective in promoting healthy choices in sports canteens.


1: Can behavior change contribute to healthier food choices in sports canteens?

Yes. In 75% of the canteens where we tested behavioral interventions, the number of healthy products sold increased. Our behavioral approach and interventions are therefore proven effective in practice.

2: How do you encourage healthy food choices in practice without changing the offer?

There are various behavioral techniques you can use to encourage healthy food choices in sports canteens without changing the offerings. Some effective nudges or interventions include:

  • Strategically placing healthy food choices, for example, at the top or bottom of the menu or at eye level in the refrigerator.

  • Using colors and symbols to indicate which choices are healthy and desirable.

  • Implementing a reward system where people can earn points for making healthy choices.

  • Offering athletes a menu deal with only healthy options before their sports activities.



A behavioral approach not only provides insights into the behavior of athletes and visitors in the canteen but also practical solutions and advice. Dion Boss, responsible for implementing 'the healthy sports canteen' in the North Limburg region, also states:

"Great collaboration! Through the research, we gained insights into how athletes behave in sports canteens from both a behavioral science and practical perspective. In addition, Changing Ways has demonstrated through interventions which solutions can be effective in promoting healthy behavior, along with handy tips and tools for associations."

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