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Childhood Obesity, Sustainable Development, and Behavioral Economics

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Presented at: SCORAI. Socio-technical Transitions, Social Practices, and the New Economics: Meeting the Challengec of a Constrained World. Mountain Lakes House, Princeton, New jersey. April 14-16, 2011. ; To understand the rising prevalence of obesity in affluent societies, it is necessary to take into account the growing obesity infrastructure, which over past decades has developed into an obesogenic environment. This infrastructure is a direct reflection of the mainstream economic growth paradigm that the literature on consumer culture characterizes as chronic overconsumption. This study examines the effects of one of the constituent factors of consumer societies and a key contributory factor to childhood obesity: commercial food communication targeted to children and its impact on their food knowledge and food preferences. Because evaluations of traditional information- and education-based interventions suggest that they may not sustainably change food patterns, we combine insights from behavioral economics and traditional consumer behavior theory to formulate seven hypotheses, which we then test using a subsample from the IDEFICS study. The results reveal not only that advertising has divergent effects on children’s food knowledge and preferences but that food knowledge is unrelated to food preferences, a finding that has important implications for future research and public policy.

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Lucia A. Reisch, Wencke Gwozdz

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