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A health study in the US using vending machines has found that if you are made to wait just 25 seconds then sugary chocolate treats become less desirable. So much so that you will most likely change your mind, stop craving chocolate and opt for a healthier snack instead.
Scientists installed countdown timers in vending machines, forcing people to wait for 25 seconds before the item that they selected became available. The study then made a healthier option instantly available, so that those waiting during the countdown could select that instead with no delay. Those who selected the healthier option in the first place also received their snack immediately.
Over the course of the 14 month study, the US team found that the small delay made 5% of users change their purchase to a healthier snack and stop craving chocolate, but that the delay timer did not effect the overall revenue generated by the machine.
In the UK obesity campaigners welcomed the study, and in light of the negligible effect on revenue insisted that there was no excuse for the UK government not to install the timers nationwide. 7 billion items are delivered each year through vending machines in the UK with revenue totalling over £1.5 billion.
Previous efforts in the UK have focused on removal of vending machines, but this proved tricky as organisations that used them relied on the revenue that they produced. Dr Brad Applhans of the Rush University medical centre in Chicago, who led the research said:
“Having to wait for something makes it less desirable,”
“Research shows that humans strongly prefer immediate gratification, and this preference influences choices and behaviour in daily life.
“We wanted to see if we could use this preference for immediate gratification to improve people’s vending machine snack choices.”
The study also found that imposing a 25% hike on the less healthy items or reducing the healthy items by the same amount changed people’s eating patterns for the better, but that unlike the time delay this reduced overall income. The scientists called their system the DISK – (Delays to Improve Snack Choices) and also colour coded every choice in the machine into three categories, regular, healthy and unhealthy snacks.
The UK’s National Obesity Forum said the disk system was “terrific”. They added
“It ticks all the right boxes and one wonders why no one has thought of this before. What’s more, its not just a flash-in-the-pan gimmick but it has been field-tested and proven to work. To top it all, it appears that vendors can install the system into their standard machines at a viable cost”.
“They will have no excuse not to do it.”