Jason Riis

Assistant Professor of Business Administration (Leave of Absence)

Unit: Marketing

Contact:

(617) 495-6361

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Jason Riis is a specialist in consumer health, a growing field at the intersection of consumer marketing and healthcare. In both industries, the central issue is behavior change. On the consumer marketing side, Professor Riis is examining the ways that food retailers and manufacturers can grow their businesses while making it easier for consumers to eat better. On the healthcare side, he is examining ways that healthcare payers and providers can better engage employees and patients in healthy behaviors. 

In his research, Professor Riis conducts field experiments, surveys, and lab studies using the methods and theories of psychology and behavioral economics. His research has appeared in top academic journals including Journal of Consumer Research, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, American Journal of Public Health, and Health Affairs. He has written HBS cases on food retailers H-E-B and Red Lobster and on health innovators PatientsLikeMe.

At HBS, he has taught the MBA Marketing course for 5 years and, has most recently, taught the new Global Immersion Field course. He has also taught in the Agribusiness and Managing Healthcare Delivery Executive Education programs.

Prior to joining HBS, Professor Riis was on the faculty at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He has also been a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University’s Center for Health and Wellbeing. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan.

Featured Work

  1. Getting the Most Out of Financial Incentives for Weight Loss

    The use of employer-sponsored, incentive-based programs for weight loss is growing. This growth is likely to accelerate in the coming years due to a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which allows employers to use a greater proportion of insurance premiums for this purpose. More high quality research on such incentive schemes is needed to understand both their effectiveness and their cost-effectiveness. Additionally, to get the most out of incentive schemes, employers should create workplace environments that make exercise and healthy eating easier.

    Annals of Internal Medicine
    , April 2013, Vol. 158, No. 7: 560–561

  2. H-E-B: Creating a Movement to Reduce Obesity in Texas

    In January 2012, H-E-B Grocery Co., a private retail chain with stores located in Texas and Mexico, was introducing its Healthy at H-E-B program to its customers. The program, which started with the company's employees a few years earlier, was an effort to educate and inform customers on how to lead a healthier lifestyle. What CEO Craig Boyan had in mind was creating a state-wide healthy living movement in Texas, where obesity was high relative to other states in the U.S. Some would say that H-E-B had no role in changing the lifestyle and food choices of its employees or customers. But Boyan and his team thought differently.

    HBS Case #512-034; April 3, 2012 
  3. Food Choices of Minority and Low-Income Employees: A Cafeteria Intervention

    Effective strategies are needed to address obesity, particularly among minority and low-income individuals. This research tested whether a two-phase point-of-purchase intervention improved food choices across racial, socioeconomic (job type) groups.

    American Journal of Preventive Medicine, September 2012, Vol. 43, No. 3: 240-248
  4. Inviting Consumers to Downsize Fast-Food Portions Significantly Reduces Calorie Consumption

    Policies that mandate calorie labeling in fast-food and chain restaurants have had little or no observable impact on calorie consumption to date. In three field experiments, an alternative approach was tested: activating consumers’ self-control by having servers ask customers if they wanted to downsize portions of three starchy side dishes at a Chinese fast-food restaurant. The research consistently found that 14-33% of customers accepted the downsizing offer. Overall, those who accepted smaller portions did not compensate by ordering more calories resulting in reduced calories served. The downsizing offer did not change the amount of uneaten food left at the end of the meal, so the calorie savings during purchasing translated into calorie savings during consumption.

    Health Affairs, February 2012, Vol. 31, No. 2: 399-407

Publications

Journal Articles

  1. Getting the Most Out of Financial Incentives for Weight Loss

    Citation:

    Riis, Jason. "Getting the Most Out of Financial Incentives for Weight Loss." Annals of Internal Medicine 158, no. 7 (April 2, 2013): 560–561.
  2. Behavioral Economics and the Psychology of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

    Behavioral economics is an emerging paradigm that challenges the assumptions and predictions of classical economics. This new paradigm emphasizes that consumers do not always make optimal use of available information nor do they always make choices and tradeoffs in a manner that optimizes their well-being. After describing some basic concepts in behavioral economics, this paper reviews the growing literature that applies these concepts to the consumption of fruits and vegetables. A toolkit to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables is developed based on an analysis of previous research. Three general kinds of tools are described: tools for 1) displays and settings, 2) incentives and prices, and 3) planning and habits.

    Keywords: Plant-Based Agribusiness; Food; Social Marketing; Decision Choices and Conditions; Consumer Behavior; Nutrition;

    Citation:

    Price, Joe, and Jason Riis. "Behavioral Economics and the Psychology of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption." Journal of Food Studies 1, no. 1 (2012): 1–13.
  3. Food Choices of Minority and Low-Income Employees: A Cafeteria Intervention

    Background: Effective strategies are needed to address obesity, particularly among minority and low-income individuals.

    Purpose: To test whether a two-phase point-of-purchase intervention improved food choices across racial, socioeconomic (job type) groups.

    Design: A 9-month longitudinal study from 2009 to 2010 assessing person-level changes in purchases of healthy and unhealthy foods following sequentially introduced interventions. Data were analyzed in 2011.

    Setting/Participants: Participants included 4,642 employees of a large hospital in Boston, MA, who were regular cafeteria patrons.

    Interventions: The first intervention was a traffic-light style color-coded labeling system encouraging patrons to purchase healthy items (labeled green) and avoid unhealthy items (labeled red). The second intervention manipulated "choice architecture" by physically rearranging certain cafeteria items, making green-labeled items more accessible and red-labeled items less accessible.

    Main Outcome Measures: Proportion of green- (or red-) labeled items purchased by an employee. Subanalyses tracked beverage purchases, including calories and price per beverage.

    Results: Employees self-identified as white (73%); black (10%); Latino (7%); and Asian (10%). Compared to white employees, Latino and black employees purchased a higher percentage of red items at baseline (18%, 28%, and 33%, respectively, p<0.001) and a lower percentage of green (48%, 38%, and 33%, p<0.001). Labeling decreased all employees' red-item purchases (-11.2%, 95% CI= -13.6%, -8.9%) and increased green purchases (6.6%, 95% CI=5.2%, 7.9%). Red beverage purchases decreased most (-23.8%, 95% CI= -28.1%, -19.6%). The choice architecture intervention further decreased red purchases after the labeling. Intervention effects were similar across all race/ethnicity and job types (p>0.05 for interaction between race or job type and intervention). Mean calories per beverage decreased similarly over the study period for all racial groups and job types, with no increase in per-beverage spending.

    Conclusions: Despite baseline differences in healthy food purchases, a simple color-coded labeling and choice architecture intervention improved food and beverage choices among employees from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

    Keywords: Working Conditions; Safety; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms; Competitive Advantage; Cost;

    Citation:

    Levy, Douglas E., Jason Riis, Lillian M. Sonnenberg, Susan J. Barraclough, and Anne N. Thorndike. "Food Choices of Minority and Low-Income Employees: A Cafeteria Intervention." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 43, no. 1 (September 2012): 240–248.
  4. A 2-phase Labeling and Choice Architecture Intervention to Improve Healthy Food and Beverage Choices

    Objectives: We assessed whether a 2-phase labeling and choice architecture intervention increased sales of healthy food and beverages in a large hospital cafeteria. Methods: Phase 1 was a 3-month color-coded labeling intervention (red="unhealthy" yellow="less healthy" green="healthy"). Phase 2 added a 3-month choice architecture intervention which increased visibility and convenience of some green items. We compared relative changes in 3-month sales from baseline to Phase 1 and from Phase 1 to Phase 2. Results: At baseline (N=977,793 items, including 199,513 beverages), 24.9% of sales were red and 42.2% green. Sales of red items decreased in both phases (p<0.001), and green items increased in Phase 1 (p<0.001). Largest changes occurred among beverages. Red beverages decreased 16.5% during Phase 1 (p<0.001) and further decreased 11.4% in Phase 2 (p<0.001). Green beverages increased 9.6% in Phase 1 (p<0.001) and further increased 4.0% in Phase 2 (p<0.001). Bottled water increased 25.8% during Phase 2 (p<0.001) but did not increase at two on-site comparison cafeterias (p<0.001). Conclusions: A color-coded labeling intervention improved sales of healthy items and was enhanced by a choice architecture intervention.

    Keywords: Health; Sales; Change; Food and Beverage Industry;

    Citation:

    Thorndike, Anne, Lilian Sonnenberg, Jason Riis, Susan Barraclough, and Douglas E. Levy. "A 2-phase Labeling and Choice Architecture Intervention to Improve Healthy Food and Beverage Choices." American Journal of Public Health 102, no. 3 (March 2012): 527–533.
  5. Inviting Consumers to Downsize Fast-Food Portions Significantly Reduces Calorie Consumption

    Policies that mandate calorie labeling in fast-food and chain restaurants have had little or no observable impact on calorie consumption to date. In three field experiments, we tested an alternative approach: activating consumers' self-control by having servers ask customers if they wanted to downsize portions of three starchy side dishes at a Chinese fast-food restaurant. We consistently found that 14-33% of customers accepted the downsizing offer, and they did so whether or not they were given a nominal twenty-five-cent discount. Overall, those who accepted smaller portions did not compensate by ordering more calories in their entrées, and the total calories served to them were, on average, reduced by more than 200. We also found that accepting the downsizing offer did not change the amount of uneaten food left at the end of the meal, so the calorie savings during purchasing translated into calorie savings during consumption. Labeling the calorie content of food during one of the experiments had no measurable impact on ordering behavior. If anything, the downsizing offer was less effective in changing customers' ordering patterns with the calorie labeling present. These findings highlight the potential importance of portion control interventions that specifically activate consumers' self-control.

    Keywords: Food; Labels; Consumer Behavior; Interpersonal Communication; Motivation and Incentives; Health Industry; Food and Beverage Industry;

    Citation:

    Schwartz, Janet, Jason Riis, Brian Elbel, and Dan Ariely. "Inviting Consumers to Downsize Fast-Food Portions Significantly Reduces Calorie Consumption." Health Affairs 31 (February 2012): 2399–2407.
  6. Leveraging Consumer Psychology to Make It Easier to Eat Less

    Keywords: Food;

    Citation:

    Riis, Jason. "Leveraging Consumer Psychology to Make It Easier to Eat Less." Obesity and Weight Management (June 2010): 123–125.
  7. Are They Really That Happy? Exploring Scale Recalibration in Estimates of Well-being

    Keywords: Happiness;

    Citation:

    Lacey, H., A. Fagerlin, G. Loewenstein, D. Smith, J. Riis, and P. Ubel. "Are They Really That Happy? Exploring Scale Recalibration in Estimates of Well-being." Health Psychology 27, no. 6 (November 2008): 669–675.
  8. Preferences for Enhancement Pharmaceuticals: The Reluctance to Enhance Fundamental Traits

    Keywords: Health;

    Citation:

    Riis, J., J. Simmons, and G. Goodwin. "Preferences for Enhancement Pharmaceuticals: The Reluctance to Enhance Fundamental Traits." Journal of Consumer Research 35, no. 3 (October 2008).
  9. Functional Imaging of Decision Conflict

    Decision conflict occurs when people feel uncertain as to which option to choose from a set of similarly attractive (or unattractive) options, with many studies demonstrating that this conflict can lead to suboptimal decision making. In this article, we investigate the neurobiological underpinnings of decision conflict, in particular, the involvement of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Previous studies have implicated the ACC in conflict monitoring during perceptual tasks, but there is considerable controversy as to whether the ACC actually indexes conflict related to choice, or merely conflict related to selection of competing motor responses. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we dissociate the decision and response phases of a decision task, and show that the ACC does indeed index conflict at the decision stage. Furthermore, we show that it does so for a complex decision task, one that requires the integration of beliefs and preferences and not just perceptual judgments.

    Keywords: Decisions; Judgments; Risk and Uncertainty; Science; Conflict and Resolution; Perception;

    Citation:

    Pochon, J. B., Jason Riis, A. Sanfey, L. Nystrom, and J. D. Cohen. "Functional Imaging of Decision Conflict." Journal of Neuroscience 28, no. 13 (March 2008).
  10. An Alternative Approach for Eliciting Willingness-to-Pay: A Randomized Internet Trial

    Keywords: Online Technology; Change;

    Citation:

    Damschroder, Laura J., Peter A. Ubel, Jason Riis, and Dylan M. Smith. "An Alternative Approach for Eliciting Willingness-to-Pay: A Randomized Internet Trial." Judgment and Decision Making 2, no. 2 (2007): 96–106.
  11. It Must Be Awful for Them: Healthy People Overlook Disease Variability in Quality of Life Judgments

    Keywords: Health; Quality; Judgments;

    Citation:

    Lacey, H., A. Fagerlin, G. Lowenstein, D. Smith, Jason Riis, and P. Ubel. "It Must Be Awful for Them: Healthy People Overlook Disease Variability in Quality of Life Judgments." Judgment and Decision Making 1, no. 2 (November 2006): 146–152.
  12. Ignorance of Hedonic Adaptation to Hemodialysis: A Study Using Ecological Momentary Assessment

    Keywords: Health; Information; Health Care and Treatment;

    Citation:

    Riis, Jason, George Loewenstein, Jonathan Baron, Christopher Jepson, Angela Fagerlin, and Peter A. Ubel. "Ignorance of Hedonic Adaptation to Hemodialysis: A Study Using Ecological Momentary Assessment." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 134, no. 1 (February 2005): 3–9.
  13. Approaching and Avoiding Linda: Motor Signals Influence the Conjunction Effect

    Citation:

    Riis, Jason, and N. Schwarz. "Approaching and Avoiding Linda: Motor Signals Influence the Conjunction Effect." Social Cognition 21, no. 4 (August 2003).
  14. Effect of Assessment Method on the Discrepancy between Judgments of Health Disorders People Have and Do Not Have: A Web Study

    Keywords: Judgments; Health Disorders; Web; Information;

    Citation:

    Baron, Jonathan, David A. Asch, Angela Fagerlin, Christopher Jepson, George Loewenstein, Jason Riis, Margaret G. Stineman, and Peter A. Ubel. "Effect of Assessment Method on the Discrepancy between Judgments of Health Disorders People Have and Do Not Have: A Web Study." Medical Decision Making 23, no. 5 (2003): 422–434.

Book Chapters

  1. Simplified Nutrition Guidelines to Fight Obesity

    Keywords: Nutrition; Health Disorders; Welfare or Wellbeing;

    Citation:

    Riis, Jason, and Rebecca Ratner. "Simplified Nutrition Guidelines to Fight Obesity." In Leveraging Consumer Psychology for Effective Health Communications: The Obesity Challenge. Edited by Rajeev Batra, Punam Anand Keller, and Victor J. Strecher. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2010.
  2. Preferences

    Keywords: Prejudice and Bias;

    Citation:

    McClure, S., and Jason Riis. "Preferences." In Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, edited by D. Sander and K. R. Scherer. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  3. Living and Thinking about It: Two Perspectives on Life

    Keywords: Cognition and Thinking; Welfare or Wellbeing;

    Citation:

    Kahneman, Daniel, and Jason Riis. "Living and Thinking about It: Two Perspectives on Life." In The Science of Well-Being, edited by N. Baylis, Felicia A. Huppert, and B. Keverne, 285–301. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. H-E-B: Creating a Movement to Reduce Obesity in Texas

    In January 2012, H-E-B Grocery Co., a private retail chain with stores located in Texas and Mexico, was introducing its Healthy at H-E-B program to its customers. The program, which started with the company's employees a few years earlier, was an effort to educate and inform customers on how to lead a healthier lifestyle. What CEO Craig Boyan had in mind was creating a state-wide healthy living movement in Texas, where obesity was high relative to other states in the U.S. But how far to go with its employees and customers was a question that President and COO Craig Boyan and his team struggled with. On one hand Boyan believed that H-E-B, long recognized for its community involvement, had a role to play in Texans' health and well-being. On the other hand, he recognized that H-E-B was first and foremost a retailer that had to compete against the likes of Walmart. He needed to make sure that H-E-B was serving its customers what they wanted while also trying to influence their buying behavior toward healthier foods. Some would say that H-E-B had no role in changing the lifestyle and food choices of its employees or customers. But Boyan and his team thought differently.

    Keywords: Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Profit; Leading Change; Customer Focus and Relationships; Food and Beverage Industry; Retail Industry; Texas;

    Citation:

    Alvarez, Jose B., Jason Riis, and Walter J. Salmon. "H-E-B: Creating a Movement to Reduce Obesity in Texas." Harvard Business School Case 512-034, April 2012. (Revised February 2013.)
  2. Emotiv Systems Inc.: It's the Thoughts that Count

    Emotiv is getting ready to launch its innovative brain-computer interfacing (BCI) technology. The company has developed a special headset, called EPOC, and highly sophisticated software that can translate a person's emotions, cognitive thoughts, and facial expressions into digital outcomes. Emotiv wants the technology to be adopted by mainstream consumers and is leaning towards the video game market as its primary initial target. However, it needs to decide whether to continue efforts to convince one of the big three console makers (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii) to enable the EPOC on their platform or to settle for the PC gaming market. Alternatively, the company could have chosen a number of different markets to focus on (such as medical, military, market research). A host of additional marketing decisions need to be made (pricing, channels, bundling a demo game). The case allows students to grapple with the issues of selecting a target application for the launch of an innovation, determining the importance of having a big name partner for the launch by an unknown start-up, considering the wisdom of taking a B2C rather than B2B approach with a novel technology, and using analogous products to forecast demand and sales for a new technology.

    Keywords: Technology Adoption; Sales; Technological Innovation; Demand and Consumers; Marketing Strategy; Partners and Partnerships; Entrepreneurship; Forecasting and Prediction; Product Launch; Business Startups; Technology Industry;

    Citation:

    Ofek, Elie, Jason Riis, and Paul Hamilton. "Emotiv Systems Inc.: It's the Thoughts that Count." Harvard Business School Case 510-050, October 2009. (Revised July 2012.)
  3. Red Lobster (TN)

    Teaching Note for 511-052.

    Keywords: Markets; Research; Opportunities; Customer Satisfaction; Sales; Segmentation; Food; Food and Beverage Industry;

    Citation:

    Riis, Jason. "Red Lobster (TN)." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 511-139, June 2011.
  4. PatientsLikeMe: An Online Community of Patients (TN)

    Teaching Note for 511093.

    Keywords: Online Technology; Social and Collaborative Networks; Health Disorders; Growth and Development; Product Launch; Web Services Industry;

    Citation:

    Gupta, Sunil, and Jason Riis. "PatientsLikeMe: An Online Community of Patients (TN)." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 511-138, June 2011.
  5. PatientsLikeMe: An Online Community of Patients

    PatientsLikeMe (PLM) is an online community where patients share their personal experiences with a disease, find other patients like them, and learn from each other. The company was founded by Jamie and Ben Heywood when their 29-year-old brother was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. In less than five years, PLM has grown to 15 patient communities where over 80,000 patients discuss 19 diseases. In December 2010, PLM is discussing its planned launch of a General Platform that would expand the number of diseases covered from 19 to over 3,500. Is it the right move, and what does PLM need to do to make it a success?

    Keywords: Business Startups; Health Disorders; Knowledge Sharing; Growth and Development Strategy; Product Launch; Market Platforms; Social and Collaborative Networks; Health Industry;

    Citation:

    Gupta, Sunil, and Jason Riis. "PatientsLikeMe: An Online Community of Patients." Harvard Business School Case 511-093, February 2011. (Revised November 2012.)
  6. Red Lobster

    Red Lobster, a 40-year-old chain of seafood restaurants, has just completed some market research revealing an opportunity to shift its target customer segment. The chain is in the final stages of a 10-year plan of rejuvenation under CEO Kim Lopdrup. When he took over as CEO in 2004 the chain was closing restaurants and suffering declining same-store sales and declining customer satisfaction. But in 2010, even in a recession, the fortunes of the chain are improving. A recently commissioned market research study has revealed, unexpectedly, that 25% of Red Lobster's customers are "experientials," people coming for a "good evening out" rather than Red Lobster's traditional core customer who came because of a craving for seafood. Should this news cause Lopdrup to do anything differently?

    Keywords: Advertising; Customer Satisfaction; Marketing Strategy; Consumer Behavior; Research; Segmentation; Food and Beverage Industry;

    Citation:

    Bell, David E., and Jason Riis. "Red Lobster." Harvard Business School Case 511-052, September 2010. (Revised February 2011.)
  7. Exercise on Estimation

    This exercise is meant to assess students' level of confidence around everyday business and general knowledge questions, for the purpose of identifying where they are overconfident and underconfident.

    Keywords: Decision Making; Forecasting and Prediction; Personal Characteristics;

    Citation:

    Riis, Jason, and John T. Gourville. "Exercise on Estimation." Harvard Business School Exercise 509-022, September 2008. (Revised September 2010.)

    Research Summary

  1. Consumer Behavior and Health

    Professor Riis studies consumer behavior and health using the methods and theories of experimental psychology and behavioral economics. Particular problems that he is currently investigating include:

    • Information use and decision making in food service and food retail environments

    • Habits, behavior change, and preference change (particularly with respect to eating, exercise, and weight loss)

    • Adherence and engagement in healthcare

    • Consumer preferences for improvements in well-being, mental performance, and appearance

      US News and World Report (online)
      04/02/2013

      Barbara Bronson Gray

      Yale Rudd Center Website
      09/12/2012

      Kelly Brownell (Host)

      Health Affairs Blog
      02/16/2012

      Chris Fleming

      Danariely.com
      02/08/2012

      Dan Ariely

      Contact Information

      Mail:
      Jason Riis
      Harvard Business School
      Morgan Hall 187
      Soldiers Field Road
      Boston, MA 02163

      Phone:
      (617) 495-6361 

      Fax:
      (617) 496-5853 

      Email:
      jriis@hbs.edu