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A Field Experiment on the Impact of Incentives on Milk Choice in the Lunchroom

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  • John A. List
  • Anya Samek

Abstract

Almost a third of US children ages two to nineteen are deemed overweight or obese, and part of the problem is the habitual decision to consume high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. We propose that the school lunchroom provides a “teachable moment†to engage children in making healthful choices. We conduct a field experiment with over 1,500 participants in grades K to 8 from low-income households in the Chicago Heights, Illinois, School District and then evaluate the impact of small nonmonetary incentives on the selection of milk in the school lunchroom. At baseline, only 16 percent of children select white milk relative to 84 percent choosing chocolate milk. We find a significant effect of incentives, which increase white milk selection by 2.5 times, to 40 percent. One concern with incentives is that they may decrease intrinsic motivation to eat healthy, called “crowd-out of intrinsic motivation.†However, we do not find evidence of “crowd-out†; rather, we see some suggestive evidence of the positive habit forming effect of incentives.

Suggested Citation

  • John A. List & Anya Samek, 2017. "A Field Experiment on the Impact of Incentives on Milk Choice in the Lunchroom," Public Finance Review, , vol. 45(1), pages 44-67, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:pubfin:v:45:y:2017:i:1:p:44-67
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. John Cawley & Joshua A. Price, 2011. "Outcomes in a Program that Offers Financial Rewards for Weight Loss," NBER Chapters,in: Economic Aspects of Obesity, pages 91-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Uri Gneezy & Stephan Meier & Pedro Rey-Biel, 2011. "When and Why Incentives (Don't) Work to Modify Behavior," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(4), pages 191-210, Fall.
    3. repec:mpr:mprres:6257 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Just, David R. & Mancino, Lisa & Wansink, Brian, 2007. "Could Behavioral Economics Help Improve Diet Quality for Nutrition Assistance Program Participants?," Economic Research Report 6391, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    5. Uri Gneezy & Aldo Rustichini, 2000. "Pay Enough or Don't Pay at All," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 791-810.
    6. repec:mpr:mprres:5077 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. List, John A. & Samek, Anya Savikhin, 2015. "The behavioralist as nutritionist: Leveraging behavioral economics to improve child food choice and consumption," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 135-146.
    8. David R. Just & Joseph Price, 2013. "Using Incentives to Encourage Healthy Eating in Children," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 48(4), pages 855-872.
    9. Cawley, John & Price, Joshua A., 2013. "A case study of a workplace wellness program that offers financial incentives for weight loss," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 794-803.
    10. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 675-700, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Angelucci, Manuela & Prina, Silvia & Royer, Heather & Samek, Anya, 2015. "When Incentives Backfire: Spillover Effects in Food Choice," IZA Discussion Papers 9288, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Kurz, Verena, 2017. "Nudging to reduce meat consumption: Immediate and persistent effects of an intervention at a university restaurant," Working Papers in Economics 712, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.

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    Keywords

    field experiment; children; incentives; food choice;

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