The behavioralist as nutritionist: leveraging behavioral economics to improve child food choice and consumption

J Health Econ. 2015 Jan;39:135-46. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2014.11.002. Epub 2014 Nov 21.


We leverage behavioral economics to explore new approaches to tackling child food choice and consumption. Using a field experiment with >1500 children, we report several key insights. We find that incentives have large influences: in the control, 17% of children prefer the healthy snack, whereas introduction of small incentives increases take-up of the healthy snack to ∼75%. There is some evidence that the effects continue post-treatment, consistent with a model of habit formation. We find little evidence that the framing of incentives (loss vs. gain) matters. Educational messaging alone has little effect, but we observe a combined effect of messaging and incentives: together they provide an important influence on food choice.

Keywords: Child behavior; Educational messages; Field experiment; Food choice; Incentives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Economics, Behavioral*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • School Health Services
  • Snacks / psychology