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‘Nudge’ not enough to transform health of the nation: The government must also consider regulation and financial incentive

Cary Cooper & Stephen Bevan

19 July 2011

The projected rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic disease in the UK population to 2050 are increasing so rapidly that the government’s fondness for ‘nudging’ - or persuading people to make better health and lifestyle choices - will fall short of what is required. These are the conclusions of Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University and Stephen Bevan of The Work Foundation, speaking today.

Responding to the House of Lords science and technology committee report, Behaviour Change published today, Professor Cooper said, “The theory of ‘nudge’ is popular because people resent being lectured about their health and their lifestyle choices. It also helps the government avoid charges of ‘nannying’. However, the evidence from this report and from other research is that gentle persuasion will not be enough to make even a small dent in the rising burden of avoidable chronic disease which the UK faces.”

The House of Lords report argues that a mix of measures will be needed to encourage citizens to change their behaviours in a rage of settings. Committee Chair, Baroness Neuberger, said: “There are all manner of things that the government wants us to do – lose weight, give up smoking, use the car less, give blood – but how can they get us to do them? It won’t be easy and this inquiry has shown that it certainly won't be achieved through using 'nudges', or any other sort of intervention, in isolation.”

Stephen Bevan, a director of The Work Foundation commented, “We know from our own research on workforce health that many people are motivated to improve their health so they can stay productive and enjoy their work. For these, support and ‘nudging’ may be enough. However, we also know that by 2050 diabetes is set to increase by almost 200%, much of this obesity-related. Light-touch persuasion without the back-up of regulation or even financial incentives is unlikely to make much difference.”

“This report demonstrates that medical science doesn’t have all of the answers,” added Professor Cooper. “If we want to combine medical science with an understanding of human behaviour and how to change it the UK needs a Chief Social Scientist as well as a Chief Medical Officer to guide both research and advice to policy-makers.”

ENDS

 

Media enquiries:

Anna Kharbanda  020 7976 3646  akharbanda@theworkfoundation.com

Out of hours media enquiries: Nasreen Memon  07825 527 036

 Notes to Editors:

 

  1. The Work Foundation is the leading independent authority on work and its future. It aims to improve the quality of working life and the effectiveness of organisations by equipping leaders, policymakers and opinion-formers with evidence, advice, new thinking and networks. In October 2010, Lancaster University acquired The Work Foundation, forming a new alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.