by Michael L. Marlow
Mercatus Center
September 04, 2014
Working Paper Series
Obesity is a major health concern, given its association with diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, certain cancers, and arthritis. Rising obesity prevalence has led public health experts to propose solutions to what is frequently called an obesity epidemic. Many behavioral economists believe that well-designed “nudges” can steer individuals toward decisions that improve their welfare. This paper examines the effectiveness of nudges designed to steer individuals toward better eating behaviors as a means of lowering population weight. It presents basics of nudge theory, followed by criticisms of that theory. It explains various imperfections that all choice architects—whether in governments or in markets—must face, concluding that nudges are a rather blunt instrument for reducing population weight. Discussion of how nudging by governments differs from nudging by markets leads to the conclusion that market nudging is the more promising avenue of the two for helping citizens lose weight.

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