Purdue University Graduate School
Diaz-Beltran M Dissertation.pdf (2.32 MB)

Effects of Defaults and Visual Cues as Nutritional Nudges in Restaurants on Calories, Dietary Autonomy, Pleasure, and Behavioral Intentions

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posted on 2021-04-15, 21:35 authored by Monica Diaz BeltranMonica Diaz Beltran

There is a growing body of research that recognizes the importance of healthy eating promotion in restaurants. Although abundant literature describes the disadvantageous conditions for healthy choices at restaurants, few studies have addressed how to change them and their implications. This dissertation addressed two initiatives to push people toward better food choices when they eat out: optimal menu item defaults and visual cues. Based on the theoretical framework that supports this research, they were called nutritional nudges.

The impact of the optimal defaults and visual cues on a nutritional outcome as well as on cognitive-affective responses and behavioral intentions were examined in the context of a fast-food drive-thru. Calories ordered measured the nutritional effect. Dietary autonomy and anticipated pleasure were used to evaluate cognitive-affective responses. Behavioral responses encompassed restaurant visit intention and meal order intention. Additionally, the responses were analyzed as a function of the level of individual health concern.

Optimal defaults provided a robust reduction in calories ordered but reduced dietary autonomy and anticipated pleasure. Although the order intention of meals that contained optimal defaults declined compared to combos created by consumers, a similar reduction occurred with the traditional combo meals. There was no significant difference in visit intention. Regarding the second nutritional nudge, this study did not find a significant effect from the combination of visual cues and defaults —neither the defaults' effect on calories nor on anticipated pleasure and order intention varied with the simultaneous presence of the two nutritional nudges.

The effect on dietary autonomy and anticipated pleasure produced by optimal defaults was the same for different levels of health concern. By contrast, visual cues' presence changed the optimal defaults' effect on order intention depending on the consumer's health concern. When health concern values were lower, visual cues decreased the likelihood of ordering combos meals that included the optimal defaults, but when health concern was greater, visual cues enhanced their ordering intention compared to combo meals created by consumers.

This dissertation illustrated the interplay between nutritional nudges and individuals' reactions that intrinsic characteristics may shape. The individual responses identified are of interest to the restaurant industry and may have profound implications for healthy eating promotion in those places.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Hospitality and Tourism Management

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Barbara A. Almanza

Additional Committee Member 2

Carl Behnke

Additional Committee Member 3

Karen Byrd

Additional Committee Member 4

Douglas C. Nelson