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Use of Psychology and Behavioral Economics to Promote Healthy Eating

Published:October 17, 2014DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.08.002
      Understanding the psychology of how people make decisions can shed light on important factors contributing to the cause and maintenance of public health problems like obesity. This knowledge can and should inform the design of government and private-sector public health interventions. Several insights from psychology and behavioral economics that help explain why people are particularly vulnerable to the current food environment are discussed. These insights fall into the following categories: the influence of starting points (status quo bias and anchoring effects); communicating health information (simplicity and framing); and unintended consequences of policy interventions (compensation, substitution, and the peanuts effect). The paper discusses opportunities for improving the design of food policies and interventions by altering default options, providing the public with simple and meaningful nutrition information, carefully constructing the framing of public health messages, and designing food policies to minimize unintended consequences, such as compensation and substitution.
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