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Finding the techniques to nudge the population to better health

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d389 (Published 20 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d389
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

Could shoppers be encouraged to buy more fruit and vegetables by providing a designated space for them in supermarket trolleys? Or students to drink less alcohol by telling them the truth: that most students are actually quite abstemious, in spite of their hard drinking reputation?

Both are examples of the fashionable nudge techniques being adopted as public health motivation tools by the coalition government. The first relies on the human tendency to go with the flow of pre-set options. If there’s a fixed space intended for fruit and veg, we fill it. The second aims to reset the “norms” that guide much behaviour. If students are supposed to drink, they drink—but if they discover this isn’t the norm, they throttle back.

Both examples were given at a meeting at the King’s Fund by David Halpern, director of the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight …

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