Behavioral Economics and Obesity

Julie S. Downs and George Loewenstein

in The Oxford Handbook of the Social Science of Obesity

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199736362
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Behavioral Economics and Obesity

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This chapter describes different phenomena identified by behavioral economists that can shed light on the problem of obesity. It discusses the limitations of the information-based approach to combating obesity and outlines empirical research suggesting that the benefits of information provision for the population at large are minimal at best. Next, the chapter considers the research examining two categories of alternative approaches to policies aimed at obesity, both of them inspired by ideas from behavioral economists: (1) environmental “nudges” to tip the balance of small decisions against weight-gaining behaviors; and (2) ways of “supercharging” incentive programs for weight loss. There are many decision phenomena that encourage overeating or, perhaps more importantly, stand in the way of attempts to cut back by those prone to overeat. Attempts to “nudge” consumers to make healthier food choices have shown some potential. Ideas from behavioral economics can be used to improve the effectivity of economic incentives.

Keywords: behavioral economics; obesity; nudges; supercharging; overeating; economic incentives

Article.  9338 words. 

Subjects: Economics ; Health, Education, and Welfare

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