Behavioural economics/insights and health and nutrition in low- and middle-income countries

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Helpdesk Query:

What is the state of application of behavioural insights/economics to health- and nutrition-related matters and preliminary evidence of the effectiveness?

Summary:

Households and individuals make decisions every day that directly impact on their health and nutrition outcomes, which are influenced by many factors, including social norms, myths and misinformation, impulsivity and procrastination, and the country context they live in (Ashton et al, 2015, p. 7; Luoto, 2017, p. 1). Behavioural economics/insights can help explain this decision making and create an environment in which people make choices that are better aligned with their aspirations, objectives, and perceived welfare (Ashton et al, 2015, p. 8).

Interventions might involve supplying the correct information, refraining existing information, streamlining choices, or facilitating commitment to a welfare-enhancing decision (Ashton et al, 2015, p. 11). Insights from behavioural economics have mainly been applied in high income countries but are now being applied in a variety of low- and middle-income settings to improve health behaviours (Trujillo et al, 2015, p. 748).

This rapid review looks at available literature on the application of behavioural economics/insights to health- and nutrition-related matters in low and middle income countries, focusing primarily on interventions relating to reproductive health, child health, and child nutrition.

Tools from behavioural economics/insights generally fall under strategically employed financial incentives and decision tricks or “nudges” and include: defaults; reminders; framing; commitment devices; labelling; micro incentives; social influences; timing and salience of information; identity priming; and simplification. Various studies have suggested that commitment devices, material
incentives, framing, social influences, and defaults have been particularly effective in encouraging decision making leading to healthy behaviour around reproductive health and child health and nutrition (Ashraf, 2013; Trujillo et al, 2015; Ashton et al, 2015).

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