ABOVE: Project Research Assistant and third-year Deakin University Bachelor of Nutrition Science student India Horton (right), with (from left) Deakin University Professor of Marketing Chris Dubelaar, Deakin University Retail Operations Manager Chris Livaditis, and Deakin Burwood Fusion Cafe and Corner Cafe Manager Sam Anjoul. *


Exploring whether novel food labels prompt men to choose healthier foods on campus


Deakin University Bachelor of Nutrition Science student India Horton was excited to gain real-world experience by joining a multi-sector project team testing the impact of introducing a health iniative into a retail food business. 

The third-year student took on a Research Assistant role alongside members of Deakin University’s business and health faculty, hospitality, campus environments, academics and other students for the project, which tested whether novel food labels prompted men to choose healthier foods on campus.    

The study saw labels specifically designesd to appeal to males added to selected healthier foods in an attempt to attract their attention and guide their food selection at cafes on a Deakin University campus. The gender split of customers was recorded during the study time, and surveys conducted to gather insights into customers’ food selections.  

The research built upon a study that showed that menu labelling worked more effectively for women than men; along with another study in which the effectiveness of changes to the labelling and display of food on campus is tracked and shown to improve the healthiness of food choices on campus on average across all consumers. 


India shares her experience of being part of the research team in this Q& A piece:


What did the study involve?

During the first two weeks of trimester two of 2023, a multi-sectoral study was conducted to determine whether the presence of two novel food labels influenced the lunch food choice of Deakin students. 400 students frequenting Fusion Café and Corner Café at the Deakin Burwood campus were asked what they purchased to eat for lunch. The novel labels were placed on products low in saturated fat and high in protein in the second week of the surveys, with the aim to determine if there was an increase in the purchasing of these items. The labels were particularly designed to appeal to males and depicted a ‘red heart with a green tick’, and the other had a ‘flexed arm muscle’.

Did the labels work?

The purchase of lunch items that were given the ‘muscle’ label increased in week two by both males and females, suggesting this label was successful at swaying students’ food choice towards healthier items that were higher in protein. Additionally, students mostly had correct and positive assumptions regarding the meaning of the novel labels. ‘Good’ and ‘health’ were key words that came to mind when students were shown the heart label, and ‘protein’ and ‘muscle’ when shown the ‘muscle’ label. ‘Healthy’ was a popular response for both labels. Such accurate and positive connotations with the novel labels show much promise for the effectiveness of simple illustrative signage on food items at influencing young adults to make healthier food choices.

The power of collaboration and teamwork

The project involved individuals from multiple sectors and backgrounds, including marketing and nutrition experts, undergraduate students, café owners and staff, campus services. The scope of expertise was integral to the running of this project. The project could not have gone ahead without the strong partnership with the Fusion and Corner café managers and staff, and their enthusiasm to support students and their customers to make healthy choices.

Not only did this study achieve promising findings of how young adults can be influenced to improve their diet and health but it is also a success story of how individuals from across a range of sectors can work together to produce exciting preliminary findings which can inform future policies and practices in tertiary campuses and beyond.


*Not pictured is Faith Smart, a student with the Social and Behavioral Science in Health Society and Policy, University of Utah, USA, who worked on this project as a Research Assistant alongside India. Faith also undertook an internship with Nourish Network in 2023. 


Want to know more?

Contact Prof. Chris Dubelaar: Department of Marketing, Deakin University: c.dubelaar@deakin.edu.au


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