Health messages may be an important predictor in the selection of healthier food choices among young adults. The primary objective of our study is to test the impact of labeling whole grain pasta with a health message descriptor displayed at the point-of-purchase (POP) on consumer choice in a campus dining setting. The study was conducted in a large US college dining venue during lunch service; data were collected during a nine-week period, for a total of 18 days of observation. Each day, an information treatment (i.e., no-message condition; vitamin message; fiber message) was alternated assigned to whole grain penne. Over the study period, the selection of four pasta options (white penne, whole grain penne, spinach fettuccine, and tortellini) were recorded and compiled for analysis. Logistic regression and pairwise comparison analyses were performed to estimate the impact of health messages on diners’ decisions to choose whole grain penne among the four pasta types. Our results indicate that only the message about vitamin benefits had a significant effect on this choice, with a 7.4% higher probability of selecting this pasta than the no-message condition and 6.0% higher than the fiber message condition. These findings suggest that psychological health claims (e.g., reduction of fatigue) of whole grains seem more attractive than physiological health claims (e.g., maintaining a healthy weight) for university students. In line with the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, our results suggest that small changes made at the POP have the potential to contribute to significant improvements in diet (e.g., achieving recommended levels of dietary fiber). These findings have important implications for food service practitioners in delivering information with the greatest impact on healthy food choices.
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