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Nudging for good: how to fight obesity?

Obesity is a major problem in nowadays society, being the root of many health crises and lethal diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, or even some types of cancer.

Looking for developed countries such as the United Kingdom, we easily find alarming data, regarding this disorder, already from an early age. Around one in every three kids is obese even before finishing primary school and 75% to 80% of obese adolescents will become obese adults as well, reaffirming a tendency for the ones who are already obese to keep on being dangerously overweight throughout their lives, conforming and perpetuating an unhealthy lifestyle.

Due to this, governments, companies and stores have been trying for a while to find ways to promote not only physical exercise, but also better and healthier eating.


How can BE contribute?

Nudging has been used as a strategy to fight this health issues, since its purpose is to alter behavior without changing incentives.

For instance, it has been applied to menu designs. McDonald's restaurants in England and Wales changed the order of drinks in the touch-screen menu kiosks, moving Coca-Cola from the first to the last option. This led to a decrease of 8% in its consumption and, consequently, verifying an increase of 30% in the consumption of sugar-free substitutes.

In addition, in the UK's biggest retailers, a nudge was applied to promote healthier choices. The idea was to remove all snacks and candy which used to be on the checkout area of the supermarkets and move them somewhere else. Consequently, the drop in consumption of sweet chocolate and salty snacks was of 76%, when compared to competitors which kept the products in the previous place. This shows how a simple reallocation system can highly change behavior.

For those stores, another nudge option, studied by American scientists, was to create a special area in shopping carts, specifically for fruits and vegetables, which consequently increased the consumption of those goods by 17%.

Consumption of fruit, as apples, in workplaces also increases when it is served already sliced, instead of being left in a fruit bowl. This mainly happens because people tend to adhere to an idea if it is simple and doesn’t require that much effort.


And with the pandemic…

Nowadays, during the COVID 19 pandemic situation, the risk of gaining weight is considerably higher, with more people consuming meals at home – around 55% more than before- and consequently eating extra, lacking in exercise and other health practices, leading to an accumulation of weight that could turn out dangerous, considering also the risks regarding the SARS-CoV2 situation.

A study conducted by WHO (World Health Organization) and WOF (World Obesity Federation) concluded that nine out of every ten deaths from coronavirus were in countries where at least half of the population was overweight. This is an alarm that should be a wake-up call to all governments. Action is required all around the world.

Tv programs and series have contributed significantly to fight childhood obesity and current tv content for another target audience can be an option to stand up against this problem.

A few years ago, a trial in Iceland was conducted. Children were motivated to exercise and follow healthier advice after seeing the heroes of the tv show Lazy Town doing it so. Some supermarkets followed the lead, doing a rebranding of the fruits and vegetable area, naming it "Sports Candy”, the name used within the series.

When the world is living in a pandemic paradigm, tv and online campaigns may be the best options to nudge against obesity, promoting exercise, as well as a healthy diet.


To wrap up:

We can easily establish bonds between behavioral economics and healthcare, holding hands with nutrition and medicine, working together to fight health problems that arise from bad habits.

In a pandemic situation as the one we are living in, with overwhelmed medical resources and fear of diseases, nudge can play a decisive role in reducing the numbers related to obesity and consequently to heart diseases, diabetes type 2 or others, all of them related to risk factors regarding Covid and wellbeing.

We can nudge for the consumption of more fruit and vegetables, to reduce consumption of highly caloric goods, to promote exercise, or even to avoid sedentarism. Nevertheless, the final decision is always made by each one of us, the nudge is just a help pointing out in the right direction, but we must decide whether to follow its advice for the sake of our health.


Authors:

Joana Alfaiate, Research Analyst Afonso Fortunato, Research Analyst




References

Gomes, Jose. Food Retailers Can Provide a Nudge in the Right Direction. 18.09.2020. [online]. Available at:

https://progressivegrocer.com/food-retailers-can-provide-nudge-right-direction

Nudging for good: how health psychology can tackle child obesity. [online]. Available at: https://www.changinghealth.com/nudging-for-good-how-health-psychology-can-tackle-child-obesity/

Redman, Russel. Pandemic sways most Americans to eat at home more often. 11.09.2020. [online]. Available at: https://www.supermarketnews.com/consumer-trends/pandemic-sways-most-americans-eat-home-more-often

Neville, Sarah. Stark link between obesity and Covid deaths revealed. 03.03.2021. [online]. Available at:

https://www.ft.com/content/7db2b641-c831-4876-ba0c-0f815a42c8f0

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