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The Behavioralist as Nutritionist: Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Child Food Choice and Consumption

Author

Listed:
  • John List
  • Anya Samek

Abstract

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., 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 include 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. There is some evidence that the effects continue after the treatment period, consistent with a model of habit formation. Second, we find little evidence that the framing of incentives (loss versus gain) matters. While incentives work, we find that educational messaging alone has little influence on food choice. Yet, we do observe an important interaction effect between messaging and incentives: together they provide an important influence on food choice. For policymakers, our findings show the power of using incentives 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 healthy decisions and what incentives can influence them.

Suggested Citation

  • John List & Anya Samek, 2014. "The Behavioralist as Nutritionist: Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Child Food Choice and Consumption," Framed Field Experiments 00443, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:framed:00443
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. 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).
    3. Belot, Michele & James, Jonathan & Nolen, Patrick, 2014. "Incentives and Children's Dietary Choices:A Field Experiment in Primary Schools," Department of Economics Working Papers 41226, University of Bath, Department of Economics.
    4. Cawley, John, 2015. "An economy of scales: A selective review of obesity's economic causes, consequences, and solutions," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 244-268.
    5. Saied Toossi, 2016. "Incentivizing Healthy Eating in Children: An Investigation of the “Ripple” and “Temporal” Effects of Reward-Based Interventions," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 193, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
    6. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List & Susanne Neckermann & Sally Sadoff, 2016. "The Behavioralist Goes to School: Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Educational Performance," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 183-219, November.
    7. Karlan, Dean & List, Jonathan A., 2012. "How Can Bill and Melinda Gates Increase Other People's Donations to Fund Public Goods?," Working Papers 101, Yale University, Department of Economics.
    8. Belot, Michèle & James, Jonathan & Nolen, Patrick, 2016. "Incentives and children's dietary choices: A field experiment in primary schools," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 213-229.
    9. Eric Floyd & John A. List, 2016. "Using Field Experiments in Accounting and Finance," Journal of Accounting Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(2), pages 437-475, May.
    10. Marette, Stéphan & Issanchou, Sylvie & Monnery-Patris, Sandrine & Ginon, Emilie & Sutan, Angela, 2016. "Are children more paternalistic than their mothers when choosing snacks?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 61-76.
    11. John List & Anya Samek & Terri Zhu, 2015. "Incentives to Eat Healthy: Evidence from a Grocery Store Field Experiment," Framed Field Experiments 00421, The Field Experiments Website.
    12. Anya Samek, 2016. "Gifts and Goals: Behavioral Nudges to Improve Child Food Choice at School," Natural Field Experiments 00433, The Field Experiments Website.
    13. Roland Fryer & Steven Levitt & John List & Sally Sadoff, 2012. "Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment," Framed Field Experiments 00591, The Field Experiments Website.
    14. John List & Anya Samek & Dana Suskind, 2017. "Combining Behavioral Economics and Field Experiments to Reimagine Early Childhood Education," Artefactual Field Experiments 00595, The Field Experiments Website.
    15. Belot, Michèle & Berlin, Noemi & James, Jonathan & Skafida, Valeria, 2018. "The Formation and Malleability of Dietary Habits: A Field Experiment with Low Income Families," IZA Discussion Papers 11317, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    16. Robert Hahn & Robert D. Metcalfe & David Novgorodsky & Michael K. Price, 2016. "The Behavioralist as Policy Designer: The Need to Test Multiple Treatments to Meet Multiple Targets," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2016-05, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    17. Loewenstein, George & Price, Joseph & Volpp, Kevin, 2016. "Habit formation in children: Evidence from incentives for healthy eating," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 47-54.
    18. repec:esx:essedp:753 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Alex Imas & Sally Sadoff & Anya Samek, 2015. "Do People Anticipate Loss Aversion?," CESifo Working Paper Series 5277, CESifo Group Munich.
    20. repec:eee:jhecon:v:58:y:2018:i:c:p:202-214 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. Grisolía, José M. & Longo, Alberto & Hutchinson, George & Kee, Frank, 2015. "Applying Health Locus of Control and Latent Class Modelling to food and physical activity choices affecting CVD risk," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 1-10.
    22. 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.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • I15 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Economic Development

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