NUDGING FOR HEALTH: ON PUBLIC POLICY AND DESIGNING CHOICE ARCHITECTURE


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Abstract

There have been recent policy moves aimed at encouraging individuals to lead healthier lives. The Cabinet Office has set up a ‘nudge unit’ with health as one of its priorities and behavioural approaches have started to be integrated into health-related domestic policy in a number of areas. Behavioural research has shown that that the way the environment is constructed can shape a person's choices within it. Thus, it is hoped that, by using insights from such research, people can be nudged towards making decisions which are better for their health. This article outlines how nudges can be conceived of as part of an expanding arsenal of health-affecting regulatory tools being used by the Government and addresses some concerns which have been expressed regarding behavioural research-driven regulation and policy. In particular, it makes the case that, regardless of new regulatory and policy strategies, we cannot escape the myriad of influences which surround us. As such, we can view our health-affecting decisions as already being in some sense shaped and constructed. Further, it argues we may in fact have reason to prefer sets of health-affecting options which have been intentionally designed by the state, rather than those that stem from other sources or result from random processes. Even so, in closing, this article draws attention to the largely unanswered questions about how behavioural research translates into policy and regulatory initiatives.

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