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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

    as
    1. Roland G. Fryer, Jr & Steven D. Levitt & John List & Sally Sadoff, 2012. "Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 18237, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    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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