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3 smart ways Behavioral Economics can help you lose weight

Obesity is a worldwide prevalent phenomenon, sharply rising over the past decades.According to the annual OECD publication (2017:2), more than one in two adolescents and almost one out of six children are overweight or obese in OECD countries. Unfortunately, the number of obese people is expected to inflate by2030.

Some countries endeavored to combat obesity during the last years by imposing fiscal policies. One typical example is the taxation measure called public “healthtax” (Wright, Smith and Hellowell 2017: 1). Governments place “health taxes” on goods that harm public health, for instance alcohol. Other countries funded campaigns to raise public awareness about healthy eating. However, most of these policies appeared to be slightly effective or ineffective. As behavioral economists support, their failure lies in the fact that they presume that citizens behave rationally, have high level of self-control and follow what is the best for their long-run health.

As consumers, fully rational people are supposed to follow food patterns that are optimal for their well-being in the long term. Nonetheless, humans’ eating behavior usually appears to be inconsistent with the rational model of traditional economic theory. In fact, consumers make food decisions by following specific behavioral patterns that ease the cognitive load, mainly heuristics and rules of thumb. Thus, they hinder themselves from eating balanced and healthy. Why people choose to consume foods that undermine their long-term wellbeing? How could behavioral economics contribute to eradicate unhealthy meal choices?

Behavioral Economics can combat poor nutritional choices by intervening with discrete“nudges” that could indirectly urge people towards healthier meal choices. The main objective of those tiny “nudges” is to subtly urge people to avoid harmful nutritional choices, which could undermine their well-being in the long term. The appropriate behavioral design might indirectly limit the flexibility of selecting potential choices by subtly promoting the desirable ones.

When designing a ‘nudge’, the liberty of choices is preserved, while the choice architecture is altered in a way that would guide habit formation towards healthier selections.

Here,three intelligent “nudges” that experimental evidence has proven that they could be effective.

  1. Place the healthy choices in the front

If the first thing you can see when you open your fridge is fruit, vegetables and fresh yoghurts instead of chocolate cakes or a high-sugar vanilla pudding, maybe it is higher probable that you will grab healthy foods when coming home after an exhausting day.

  • Use smaller plates

We always enjoy eating the whole portion that we have in front of us. The smaller the plate, the less the calories consumed, the faster we will lose weight.

  • Prepare on beforehand

Cooking some healthy food at home to take it with you the next day at work will prevent you from eating unhealthy sweets that your colleagues may offer you at work or from overeating when you arrive home.

Τhe high level of uncertainty and complexity of today’s society leads to unhealthy eating lifestyle. But Behavioral Economics are here to help you lose weight and improve your health!

Anastasia Varakli

Behavioral Researcher & Writer for Nudge Unit Greece

~Explaining Behavioral Economics Simply~

References

Gomez, P. (2012), ‘Common biases and heuristics in nutritional quality judgments: a qualitative exploration’, Internation Journal of Consumer Studies 37, 152-158.

Heiner, R. A. (1983), ‘The origins of predictable behavior’, American Economic Re-view 73(4), 560-595.

Hellowell, M., K.E. Smith and A. Wright (2017), ‘Policy lessons from health taxes: a systematic review of empirical studies.’, BMC Public Health 17, 583.

Just, D. R. and C.R. Payne (2009), ‘Obesity: Can Behavioral Economics Help?’, Annals of Behavioral Medicine 38(1), S47–S55.

OECD Health Statistics (2017). Obesity update 2017, Retrieved February 19, 2018 from www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/Obesity-Update-2017.pdf .

Thaler, R. and C. Sunstein (2003). ‘Libertarian Paternalism’, The American Economic Review 93(2), 175-179.

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