In a new study, researchers from San Diego State University (SDSU) wanted to investigate whether a simple sign placed at the bottom of the stairs might prompt airport visitors to choose the stairs over the escalator.
The study’s first author, Dr. John Bellettiere, has been researching ways to boost physical activity at the population level to help people “sit less and move more.” He says that even small amounts of activity can have important health benefits, particularly for Americans who sit most of the day.
For 10 non-consecutive days, a team led by SDSU public health researchers Yael Ben Porat, Brent Bishop, and Melbourne Hovell posted one of five signs at the bottom of a set of stairs and escalators ascending to a sky bridge into San Diego International Airport’s Terminal 1. On alternating days, they posted no signs at all.
The signs included the following:
- “Don’t lose time, lose weight. Use the Stairs.”
- “Don’t waste Time, trim your Waistline. Use the Stairs.”
- “You’ll get more stares if you use the stairs.”
- “If you want to feel younger, act younger. Step it up! Use the stairs.”
- “Please reserve the escalator for those who need it.”
The research team kept track of how many people took the stairs versus the escalator on the sign days and no-sign days. The researchers also interviewed people at the top of the stairs about their health history and physical activity levels.
Strikingly, when one of the signs was present, about twice as many people took the stairs compared to a no-sign day. The prompts appeared to nudge both regular exercisers as well as non-exercisers, said study coauthor Natasha Bliss, an alumna of the SDSU Graduate School of Public Health and current associate director of development for the university’s College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts.
“We saw the effect even when people were carrying luggage, even when they were in a rush,” Bellettiere said. “It’s the first time this kind of effect has been shown at an airport.”
Encouraging even small amounts of exercise is important, Bellettiere added, because of its compounding effect in people’s lives. For example, if they choose the stairs early in the day, they may make similar healthy choices throughout the day. Also, when people see others taking the stairs, they are more likely to do so themselves, creating a ripple effect.
“These nudges are small environmental changes that can really help boost physical activity in the population,” Bellettiere said.
The findings are published in the Journal of Primary Prevention.
Source: San Diego State University