Rational Health-Compromising Behavior and Economic Intervention

Authored by: Gideon Yaniv

Handbook of Contemporary Behavioral Economics

Print publication date:  July  2006
Online publication date:  January  2015

Print ISBN: 9780765613028
eBook ISBN: 9781315703879
Adobe ISBN: 9781317469162


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Health-compromising (HC) behaviors are behaviors practiced by people that undermine or harm their current or future health (Taylor 1995, ch. 6). Alcohol consumption, smoking, and use of psychoactive substances, all of which bear potential for dependency and addiction, are the most important HC behaviors, accounting for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually and billions of dollars in economic loss and treatment costs. Yet the range of HC behaviors is much wider, involving junk food consumption, excessive eating, insufficient sleep, driving at excessive speed, engaging in unsafe sex, lying in the sun on the beach, chatting on a cellular phone, delaying medical care, not adhering to doctors’ orders, or attempting suicide. Although HC behaviors are traditionally considered to lie within the domain of psychologists, they have recently attracted the interest of economists, who have applied optimization techniques to show that HC behavior may be consistent with rational behavior, that is, that people may rationally choose to engage in activities that are harmful to their health. While psychologists stress treatment and reeducation as means of achieving behavioral changes, economists emphasize the role of incentives.

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