Government Nudges: Health of the Nation

Most of us have heard about Nudge Theory (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008) by now, and I have written about it a number of times – Nudge Theory and Nudge Yourself to Health. However, how the government can utilise the theory to improve the health of the nation remains less clear and shrouded in doubt.

Here are some examples of positive steps the government could take to help ‘nudge’ people in the healthiest direction:

Smoking:  Creating a highly visible non-smoking mass media campaign that emphasises the negative aspects of the behaviour, as well as the societal disdain for the habit.  Reinforcing this by using physical cues such as making it hard to smoke in public areas, as has been achieved in the UK (Sweney, 2008). The governments can also nudge by increasing prices.

Alcohol:  Smaller drinks as standard help people to consume less alcohol.  The government can nudge by regulating the industry, or raising the prices or drinking ages.

Diet:  The designation of fruit and vegetable sections in supermarket trolleys (Rainford and Tinkler, 2011).  At restaurants, replacing chips as a side dish with a default side salad. The government can also restrict unhealthy food advertising or ban fatty foods. Such nudges could help reduce the current obesity epidemic (Cecchini et al., 2010).

Physical Activity:  Making stairs a standard in buildings, rather than lifts.  In cities, stressing the importance of cycling to work and other activities over driving short distances. The government could also regulate by controlling the cost of petrol and car insurance  (Rainford and Tinkler, 2011).

With the ability to reach a mass public and positively affect them both in the short and long-term, it is easy to envision the many potential benefits from the effective integration of  Nudge Theory by the government.



Cecchini, M., Sassi, F., Lauer, J.A., Lee, Y.Y., Guajardo-Barron, V. and Chisholm, D., 2010. Tackling of unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and obesity: health effects and cost-effectiveness. Lancet, 376, pp.1775-84.

Rainford, P. and Tinkler, J., 2011. Designing for nudge effects: how behaviour management can ease public sector problems. In, Innovating through Design in Public Services Seminar Series 2010-2011: Seminar 4: Designing for nudge effects: how behaviour management can ease public sector problems, 23rd February 2011.

Sweney, M., 2008. Government online ad spending soars., 16 Jul. [online]. Available from: [cited 23 December 2011].

Thaler, R.H. and Sunstein, C.R., 2008. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Categories: Health, Psychology

Tags: , , ,

3 replies

  1. This sounds a good idea Nicola, but I think a person has got to want to eat healthier, stop smoking or excercise more before they will act. Wanting something is half way to achieving it I think. I want to be a better writer of short stories…..There, I’m half way there….talk soon.xx

  2. Hi again:)

    I think that there are some sentences above that need a bit of adjustements. It is quite clear from definition of nudge provided by Thaler & Sunstein that the nudge approach to behavioral change does not include governments playing too around with economic incentives, cf:

  3. Thanks for popping by Pelle. I have taken a look at your website – fantastic. As you can see, I am very interested in nudge theory and thus I am always eager to learn more about it. If there is ever anything you would like to clarify, I would value a guest post from you on this topic.

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