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Nudging, fishing, and improving the public’s health

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d8046 (Published 13 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d8046
  1. Caroline White
  1. 1London

Caroline White talks to David Halpern, head of the government’s “nudge unit,” about shining a light on the low cost options for changing behaviour

David Halpern thinks that people who ridicule the government’s faith in “nudge” thinking and “behavioural economics” are missing the point.

The stance is about “taking a broader view and looking at the whole range of tools,” he insists, in his capacity as head of the Behavioural Insight Team, dubbed the “Nudge Unit,” at the Treasury. “We are just shining a light on what, at little or no cost, can make a change that is quite influential.”

By way of example, he cites rumble strips and white lines on motorways; plate and portion sizes; and how lighting levels, ambient music, and whether someone stands or sits can influence how much they drink.

The coalition government set up the unit last July to find “intelligent ways to encourage, support, and enable people to make better choices for themselves.”

This aspiration was embodied in a report from the independent Institute for Government, from which Dr Halpern is on secondment as its director of research, and which he set up in 2007 with …

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