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Behavioral economists have for long been studying about how to exploit people’s behavioral tendencies to nudge them take such decisions which are in best of their interest, even if not in short term, definitely in long term. Health economics is one of such areas that researchers in behavioral economics are exploring in terms of practically relevant issues with great curiosity. I recently happened to read a paper titled “The cost-effectiveness of shopping to a predetermined grocery list to reduce overweight and obesity” authored by Nicole Au, G. Marsden, D. Mortimer, and P. K. Lorgelly, published in Nature‘s Nutrition & Diabetes journal.

The study examines whether pre-commitment strategies such as shopping according to a shopping/grocery list (prepared in advance) is likely to be cost-effective and result in benefits such as facilitating healthier diets, weight loss, and ultimately better health among those who are over-weighted and suffering from obesity. The issue has been a serious one especially among the urban population irrespective of geographical boundaries, and the researchers at the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University, Melbourne (Australia) have investigated the issue from the perspective of behavioral economics which seeks to answer why and how people behave in a certain way and how their behavior can be modeled using their own behavioral tendencies and habits as nudge. These nudging strategies can be used to help people make choices that are healthier and more beneficial to their lifestyle.

The researchers say, “And the good thing is some of these behavioral economic strategies can often be carried out at very low costs. Encouraging these strategies in the community could also be a cost-effective policy option for the governments.”


Image source: bbc.co.uk

 When we commit to a shopping list (prepared in advance) to buy only the stuff we actually need, it help us avoid the temptations of purchasing unhealthy food items, apart from spending money on (sort of) unnecessary purchases. The experimental evidence suggests that such habits lead the individual bring out meaningful impact on weight loss and long-term health, particularly among overweight and obese individuals.

 The authors say that the advance planning of shopping list is a really cost-effective tool to lose weight when compared to the alternative of ‘doing nothing‘, and moreover it does improve quality of life, both in terms of irrational habits leading to unhealthier decisions and unwarranted monetary loss.

 Dr. Nicole Au also adds that diet is just one side of energy equation and that “there is a great potential for behavioral economic strategies to improve physical activity as well as diet, and future work is needed to investigate whether such strategies are cost-effective.”

It is unarguably acceptable proposition that pre-commitment strategies can be effective interventions for facilitating healthier diets and also for promoting weight loss among overweight and obese individuals.  However, the issue whether the incremental weight loss arising from shopping to a pre-commitment intervention tool is small yet significant. We all may agree that the long-term effects of such decision habits are definitely significantly large in various contexts, including health and financial aspects.

Image source: Literacy Revelation (Blog)

According to the study, a pre-commitment strategy to alter the home food environment is a cost-effective means for maintaining healthier life style. For instance, in Indian context, people tend to drop in to shopping malls and superstores without any pre-commitment intervention tool (i.e. shopping/grocery list) and end up buying unnecessary food items (many time other stuff too that they later regret buying of)  involving financial implications and health implications (just a little later when they will have to consume those unhealthy purchases in order to derive utility from the money they spent on buying those things).

It is very much oblivious that many consumers understand all too well of those unhealthier purchases but they suffer from impulsiveness (which the marketers prefer to to call strategies to generate impulsive buying) and poor self-control that they behave in a manner that depart from a rational (or even, quasi rational) decisions that are in their good intentions.

 Okay! Enough of Gyan! Now I better go prepare my shopping list for this weekend. You too think about the same or else you may continue reading some more blog posts of mine. 😉

 Happy Rational Learning!

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