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Emojis May Help People Make Healthier Food Purchases

Woman looking at produce in grocery storeArrows directing people toward healthy food in grocery stores—a real-life version of emojis—can help people make healthier choices, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

A report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggested most Americans fall short of daily intake guidelines for fruits and vegetables. Men and women of most age groups average less than two cups of vegetables and fruits each day, though dietary guidelines recommend about four cups of vegetables and three cups of fruit for most adults.

Healthier Purchases with Emojis?

Researchers collected data from two grocery stores, both parts of the same chain, on customer shopping habits for two weeks. The stores were in places with similar demographics, including a poverty level of 33-44%.

At the end of the initial two-week period, the team erected signs designed to direct customers to healthy food options in one of the stores, while the second store acted as a control. The signs featured smiley face emojis giving a thumbs-up and arrows. “Follow green arrow for a healthy heart” and “Follow the green arrow for health” were among the signs’ captions.

At the store that featured these signs, shoppers bought 8% more produce than usual. They did not increase spending on other food, suggesting the signs had a direct influence on purchasing behavior.

In a second experiment, the researchers placed the signs in two grocery stores with different demographics from the original stores. The second group of stores had a lower poverty level of 13-18%. This time, researchers gathered data on baseline shopper behavior for 96 and 123 days. Within 19-25 days, shoppers had increased produce spending by as much as 15%.

The researchers say these simple graphics may encourage shoppers across demographic groups and income levels to make healthier purchasing decisions because the emojis serve as a sign of social approval. The study did not assess whether shoppers actually ate the additional produce they purchased.


  1. Shifts needed to align with healthy eating patterns. (2016, January). Retrieved from
  2. Mole, B. (2016, June 30). People eat healthier when real-life emojis literally point them to produce. Retrieved from
  3. Payne, C. R., Niculescu, M., Just, D. R., & Kelly, M. P. (2016). This way to produce: Strategic use of arrows on grocery floors facilitate produce spending without increasing shopper budgets. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 48(7). doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2016.05.001

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  • Creighton

    July 7th, 2016 at 12:29 PM

    I am sure that this is supposed to be seen as really positive but it only makes me sad that we need things like this to encourage us to have healthier habits.

  • Molly

    July 8th, 2016 at 1:23 PM

    At this point, with the obesity rate through the roof in this country, we have to try to do anything that we can to get attention and to help people make healthier lifestyle and food decisions. I too would think that this is a no brainer, it is pretty easy to choose the good foods from the bad. But you know, we all have a hard time making choices sometimes and I think that this would be especially appealing to younger consumers.

  • Kenneth

    July 9th, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    Well we can’t do everything for everyone.
    They have to make the choice to actually eat their purchases when they get home.
    I would hate to think that all of this food is being purchased and then going to waste by someone just neglecting it once they get home from the store.

  • Frannie

    July 11th, 2016 at 2:43 PM

    Nutritionists have to be baffled that all of their work has been boiled down to goofy symbols and faces, that all of their hard work comes down to the emotions that one gets from one of those emoticons at the grocery store.

  • lazydaisy

    July 12th, 2016 at 2:03 PM

    wow, I would hate for us to have to rely on anything of real educational value or anything

  • Connor

    July 13th, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    Look I know that for some people this just seems to be dumbing us all down, but it’s catchy, it’s fun and something that especially younger kids can relate to.
    I don’t see anything wrong with it.
    If it works, then why knock it?

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