Healthy Eating in the Wild: An Experience-sampling Study of how Food Environments and Situational Factors Shape Out-of-Home Dietary Success

Jan Michael Bauer*, Kristian Steensen Nielsen, Wilhelm Hofmann, Lucia A. Reisch

*Corresponding author for this work

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Across many parts of the world, people increasingly eat out-of-home. Simultaneously, many people strive to eat a healthier diet, but it remains unclear to what extent and how eating out helps or hinders people in achieving their dietary goals. The present study investigated how characteristics of the physical micro-environment in out-of-home food outlets (e.g., cafeterias, supermarkets, and restaurants) influence the healthiness of food choices among a sample of German adults with a goal to eat healthier. We used an experience sampling method to obtain detailed information about people's motivation for selecting a specific food outlet and the outlet's micro-environment. We further asked for people's mood, visceral state, and thoughts during their food choice and obtained evaluations of food choices reported near their occurrence and in externally valid conditions. The data was collected via a mobile app over a period of six to eleven days between November and December of 2018 in Germany with a sample of 409 participants (nobs = 6447). We find that even health-conscious people select food outlets and their respective micro-environments based on short-term goals, such as ease, taste, and speed of a consumption episode rather than long-term health outcomes. Using multiple regression, we show that micro-environments that promote healthy food, make such food more appealing and easier to select facilitate healthy food choices. We further identify some of the psychological mechanisms through which the micro-environment can affect food choices, as well as how individual characteristics moderate the relationship between specific micro-environmental factors and goal success. Taken together, our findings suggest the opportunity for, and arguably also necessity of, reshaping food environments to better facilitate healthier choices and support public health in the face of increasing out-of-home food consumption and the adverse consequences of unhealthy diets.
Original languageEnglish
Article number114869
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Behavioural public policy
  • Dietary success
  • Experience sampling
  • Food choice
  • Food outlets
  • Healthy diet
  • Obesogenic environment

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