Is obesity an information problem?

As mentioned yesterday, childhood obesity is a problem that can be reduced by giving more opportunities to be outside and away from the television. But one may also try to combat the problem with information campaigns. One way is to publish dietary information in restaurants, something that even benefits the restaurants, as I reported earlier. But most food is not consumed in restaurants, especially for poor households who also are most likely to be obese. But do such information campaigns really work?

Andres Silva, Marian Garcia and Alastair Bailey show that when news about childhood obesity hit the media in the UK, households change their food habits for the better, and without having an impact of expenses. It is thus possible for the poor to do something about the obesity risk without financial consequences.

The fact that information matters is corroborated in a study by Linda Thunström, Jonas Nordström, Jason Shogren and Mariah Ehmke that shows that people use strategic self-ignorance to make choice they know has bad future implication. Specifically they did an experiment where people could choose meals and obtain without cost calorie information. Most subject chose to remain ignorant and then took in more calories than the enlightened ones.

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