Policy paper

Applying behavioural insight to health: behavioural insights team paper

Applying behavioural insight to health, a discussion paper written by the behavioural insights team in the Cabinet Office.

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Applying behavioural insight to health, a discussion paper written by the Behavioural Insights Team in the Cabinet Office, draws on insights from behavioural science and behavioural economics and shows ways in which health improvements can be made without resorting to legislation or costly programmes.

The paper sets out a number of examples where local authorities, charities, government and private sector organisations are developing responses that encourage healthier behaviours. It also announces a number of new initiatives introduced by the Behavioural Insights Team in partnership with other organisations:

  • A smoking cessation pilot beginning in early 2011. This will use encourage  participants to make commitments to quit smoking (for example, by signing a contract) and will reward those who pass regular smoking tests. The pilot will be run by Boots, with the support of the Behavioural Insights Team and the Department of Health
  • A system of ‘prompted choice’ on organ donor registration will be introduced to the DVLA online application form for renewing and applying for driving licenses. This will require applicants to state whether or not they wish to become an organ donor. Where this has been introduced in other countries, it has significantly increased the number of organ donors. If the DVLA scheme proves successful, it will be rolled out to other areas.

Minister for Government Policy in the Cabinet Office Oliver Letwin said:

In the UK today, behavioural and lifestyle factors are thought to be major contributors in around half of all deaths. They include smoking, unhealthy diet, excess alcohol consumption and inactive lifestyles. The Government cannot address these issues successfully using heavy-handed legislation to rebalance our diets, change our desire to drink too much alcohol on a Friday night, or make our lives more active.

This paper shows how a new approach, drawing on insights from behavioural economics and behavioural sciences, can help to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles. It does not attempt to be comprehensive or to suggest that behaviour change techniques are the silver bullet that can solve every problem, but does show how, in a number of areas, there are often cost-effective ways of encouraging behavioural change that are less intrusive and will lead to better results for individuals and for society.

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