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Head To Head

Is nudge an effective public health strategy to tackle obesity? Yes

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 14 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2168
  1. Adam Oliver, senior lecturer
  1. 1LSE Health, London School of Economics and Political Science, London WC2A 2AE, UK
  1. a.j.oliver{at}

Adam Oliver maintains that nudges may help people to make healthier choices, but Geof Rayner and Tim Lang (doi:10.1136/bmj.d2177) worry that government proposals are little more than publicly endorsed marketing

The “nudge” or, more formally, libertarian paternalist agenda has captured the imagination of at least some of the British policy elite, epitomised by the creation of the Cabinet Office’s behavioural insights team (the so called nudge unit).1 The reason for the political popularity of nudging is obvious: it offers politicians a tool by which they can offer guidance, without enforcement, on individual behaviour change that is good for and, on reflection, preferred by, individuals themselves. Various nudge policies have been proposed to tackle obesity, but before considering these, I will try to clear up a few misconceptions about what libertarian paternalism conceptually entails.

Rationale of nudging

The essence of the approach is to apply behavioural economic insights (for example, loss aversion—that losses tend to “hurt” more than gains of the same size) to policy considerations so as to change the choice architecture (that is, the …

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