A couple of colleagues at the university commented on my last post about legislation and a minimum price for wine. They pointed out that the Government is increasingly embracing a ‘nudge’ approach (aka ‘libertarian paternalism’) to public health. The Cabinet Office have established a Behavioural Insight Team (already nicknamed ‘The Nudge Unit’) which published its first paper (here) on 31st December last year. This discussed the use of psychological principles to improve public health and argued against ‘strong-arm’ interventionist tactics.
I have, like many, been reading Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” pictured above. The idea is that people can be encouraged to change habits (e.g. reduce ‘binge drinking’) with low cost interventions such as a reminder to buy fruit and vegetables on shopping trolleys. Examples of nudges (including one designed to support people in not smoking and another which promotes the use of motorcycle helmets) can be found (here). The coalition government in the UK is clearly interested in low cost solutions and libertarian principles (for pragmatic economic as well as ideological reasons). The relationship between psychology and ideology is problemmatic though and issues of informed consent are likely to be raised when behaviour modification, rather than educational, programmes are implemented. Nudges website here.