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Applying Behavioural Insights to Policy Making Health and Nutrition


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The conference on Food Safety and Nutrition in 2050 – organised by Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety of the European Commission – provided an opportunity for dialogue among global stakeholders on the emerging challenges to the food chain and the role of future policy-making in addressing those challenges.

The conference also provided the opportunity to foster a dialogue on consumers' expectations for safe, nutritious, quality and sustainable food and the role of food science, technology and innovation in achieving them. Held on 17 July 2015 in Milan, Italy.

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Applying Behavioural Insights to Policy Making Health and Nutrition

  1. 1. © Behavioural Insights ltd Applying behavioural insights to policy making: Health and nutrition Michael Hallsworth
  2. 2. © Behavioural Insights ltd About the team
  3. 3. © Behavioural Insights ltd What are Behavioural Insights? Behavioural Insights Psychology Anthropology Economics Public Policy Understanding how people behave in practice so that we can design policy better
  4. 4. © Behavioural Insights ltd Behavioural insights adds another dimension Behavioural Insights 1. Regulation 2. Incentives 3. Information
  5. 5. © Behavioural Insights ltd Two different ways of applying behavioural insights High-level policy (goals, rules, structures, funding, “terms of the debate”) Opportunistic delivery (timing, wording, design, friction costs, trial and error) Incremental change “Stepchange”
  6. 6. © Behavioural Insights ltd High-level policy: Obesity We need a new policy narrative for obesity.
  7. 7. © Behavioural Insights ltd Three statements about obesity 1. Consuming food is often a “mindless” response to our environment. 2. The past thirty years have seen a massive increase in the supply of calories and our exposure to these calories. 3. Physical activity brings a variety of health benefits. However, it is mainly an increase in calorie intake, not a decline in physical activity levels, that has caused the obesity problem. Increasing activity alone is unlikely to be the solution.
  8. 8. © Behavioural Insights ltd Mindless eating: We eat what is in front of us 7,7 4,6 5,6 3,1 6,5 3,8 6,1 3,5 Close and Visible Close and not- visible Far and visible Far and not visible Actual Number of Sweets Consumed Estimated Number of Sweets Consumed Wansink, B., Painter, J. E., & Lee, Y. K. (2006). The office candy dish: proximity's influence on estimated and actual consumption. International Journal of Obesity, 30(5), 871-875. Food that is closer and more visible to us is more likely to be eaten.
  9. 9. © Behavioural Insights ltd Mindless eating: We underestimate the calories in a “healthy” meal 870 1085 1170 779 Actual calories Perceived calories Actual calories Perceived calories Adapted from Chandon, P. (2013). How package design and packaged-based marketing claims lead to overeating. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 35(1), 7-31. “Unhealthy” meal “Healthy” meal + 25% -33%
  10. 10. © Behavioural Insights ltd Portion sizes have increased greatly in the last 30 years. Levitsky, D. A., & Pacanowski, C. R. (2011). Free will and the obesity epidemic. Public Health Nutrition, 15(1), 126 Calorie supply: Portion sizes
  11. 11. © Behavioural Insights ltd Some policy options 1. Portion size reduction 2. Reformulation 3. Substitution 4. Education • I will not shop when I am hungry • I will fill half my plate with fruit or vegetables • I will eat meals from smaller plates • I will not store snacks at eye level in my refrigerator or cupboard Supply of calories Consumer choices
  12. 12. © Behavioural Insights ltd Test and adapt policies Define the outcome Understand the context Build your intervention Test, learn, adapt
  13. 13. © Behavioural Insights ltd Conclusion • People tend to think they have more control over their eating than they do. • This leads to unsuccessful attempts to control eating based on willpower. • The psychology of eating suggests that portion size reduction and food reformulation may be particularly effective. • Education can be effective, but only if it reflects the habitual, contextual, automatic nature of eating. • We should test and iterate policy interventions, often in a low-cost way – BIT can give examples of how to do this.
  14. 14. © Behavioural Insights ltd Michael Hallsworth
  15. 15. Asian Food Regulation Information Service is a resource for the food industry. We have the largest database of Asian food regulations in the world – and it’s FREE to use. We publish a range of communication services (free and paid), list a very large number of food events and online educational webinars and continue to grow our Digital Library. Feel free to contact us anytime to talk about your specific requirements, offer comments, complaints or to compliment us. We look forward to hearing from you soon!