GOOD

Calorie Counting: When Nudge Comes to Shove

If we're serious about the obesity problem a gentle nudge, like providing calorie information, may not be enough.

The students walk into Duke University's version of Panda Express to place a lunch order. They are asked if they would like to downsize their order. A third take the offer. Then, calorie counts go up on the menu, and the researchers repeat the offer to see if more information about their meals encourages students to eat healthier. Again, a third downsize their meals. Even with calorie counts on display, people didn't change their order.


The federal government is rolling out its calorie counting regulations as part of the new health care reform law. But their effectiveness isn't firmly established. As Dan Ariely, who conducted the above study at Duke University and wrote The Upside of Irrationality, explained to NPR, the problem is that the calorie count just doesn't seem to make a big difference in people's decision making. When we roll into Panda Express or McDonald's, many of us have already made up our minds.

No matter how much people give you to eat, you'll eat the whole thing. So it's really a question of how much you start with. Because we've also tested this—we looked at what people end up with and how much they throw away. People eat everything you give them. But if you give people a mechanism to limit what they're going to have for food later on, people actually eat less as a consequence.

\n

Some public health experts—Kelly Brownell, of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, for example—suggest a solution with optimal defaults, wherein "good" behaviors are encouraged and become almost automatic.

Take the case of organ donation. In countries where the default is consenting to donate your organs (blue bars in the chart below), a much higher percentage of people donate. Where people have to explicitly consent (red bars), many fewer people opt in.

In the case of organ donation, how you set the default makes a big difference in the result. But as the Duke study shows, providing calorie counting alone seems to be too gentle a nudge to get people to make different eating decisions.

If we're serious about addressing obesity, perhaps people need a shove towards downsized portions instead. The Duke study suggests that we'll downsize when offered an incentive—a financial discount—for doing so. Now, the question is how do we go about mandating better default options or providing those incentives, especially if that compromises the profit margins that come with supersized portions?

Chart via "Personal Responsibility And Obesity: A Constructive Approach To A Controversial Issue" Health Affairs: 2010 (PDF), using data from "Do Defaults Save Lives?" Science: 2003.

Articles
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet