Ready-to-eat meals sold by food outlets that are accessible to the general public are an important target for public health intervention. We conducted a systematic review to assess the impact of such interventions.Methods:
Studies of any design and duration that included any consumer-level or food-outlet-level before-and-after data were included.Results:
Thirty studies describing 34 interventions were categorized by type and coded against the Nuffield intervention ladder: restrict choice = trans fat law (n = 1), changing pre-packed children's meal content (n = 1) and food outlet award schemes (n = 2); guide choice = price increases for unhealthier choices (n = 1), incentive (contingent reward) (n = 1) and price decreases for healthier choices (n = 2); enable choice = signposting (highlighting healthier/unhealthier options) (n = 10) and telemarketing (offering support for the provision of healthier options to businesses via telephone) (n = 2); and provide information = calorie labelling law (n = 12), voluntary nutrient labelling (n = 1) and personalized receipts (n = 1). Most interventions were aimed at adults in US fast food chains and assessed customer-level outcomes. More ‘intrusive’ interventions that restricted or guided choice generally showed a positive impact on food-outlet-level and customer-level outcomes. However, interventions that simply provided information or enabled choice had a negligible impact.Conclusion:
Interventions to promote healthier ready-to-eat meals sold by food outlets should restrict choice or guide choice through incentives/disincentives. Public health policies and practice that simply involve providing information are unlikely to be effective.