Behavioral Economics and Food Policy: The Limits of Nudging
in Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics, John Hopkins University Press 2016.
8 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2017
Date Written: May 2, 2014
Behavioral economics represents only one tool among many available to the government to combat obesity and improve health outcomes. For example, the USDA uses high-impact marketing strategies, such as partnerships with fast food companies, to increase consumption of subsidized commodities, which include dairy, corn, wheat, meat, and soy. These tactics depart significantly from the principles of choice architecture, which is a form of libertarian paternalism that focuses on the environments in which people make choices. Dividing food policy into three categories — hard paternalism, aggressive soft paternalism, and gentle soft paternalism — highlights the differences in the government's approaches that depend on its objective. This categorization suggests that financial concerns, such as subsidies and industry goodwill, compel the use of strategies proven to influence consumer behavior. Health concerns, in contrast, tend to generate less impactful policies. The chapter interrogates the disproportionate harm that structural constraints inflict on socially marginalized communities and concludes by proposing a shift in federal food policy to a harder paternalistic framework.
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