266556 Behavioralist as dietician: Leveraging behavioral economics to improve child food choice and consumption

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 : 12:50 PM - 1:10 PM

Anya (Savikhin) Samak, PhD , School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
John List, PhD , Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, with now almost a third of children ages 2-19 deemed overweight or obese. In this study, we leverage recent findings from behavioral economics to explore new approaches to tackling one aspect of childhood obesity: food choice and consumption. Using a field experiment where we touch more than 1,500 children, we report several key insights. First, we find that individual incentives can have large influences: in the control, only 17% of children prefer the healthy snack, whereas the introduction of small incentives increases take-up of the healthy snack to roughly 75%, more than a four-fold increase. The observed treatment effects compare favorably to educational messages, which alone have little influence on food choice. Second, we find that incentives framed as losses have consistently large effectsóboth in the food choice decision and in whether the child actually consumes the snack. Third, educational messages combined with incentives framed as losses have the largest impacts, both during and after our incentivized time period. For policymakers, our findings show the power of using behavioral economics to combat childhood obesity. For academics, our approach opens up an interesting combination of theory and experiment that can lead to a better understanding of theories that explain health decisions and what incentives can influence them.

Learning Areas:
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Design new interventions to improve child food choice. Discuss ways to evaluate new interventions to improve child food choice.

Keywords: Behavioral Research, Child/Adolescent

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been the principal investigator of the project that I have submitted to present.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.