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Doctors, economist, write prescription for protecting people from themselves
Date:11/27/2007

PITTSBURGH Policy makers, employers and others can use the science of behavioral economics to steer people toward wiser choices and dramatically improve their health without limiting their freedom to do as they please, according to an article published in the Nov. 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The paper was written by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pennsylvania, Aetna Inc. and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

This approach can counter one of the underlying causes of major health problems in the United States and other developed nations bad decision-making on the part of individuals. Tobacco use, obesity and alcohol abuse account for nearly one-third of all deaths in the United States. Whats more, the full benefits of many medical advances such as medication to control blood pressure, lower cholesterol and prevent strokes go unrealized because people fail to adhere to their treatment. For example, the authors note that one year after suffering a heart attack about half of patients prescribed drugs to lower cholesterol have stopped taking them.

So, why do people make choices they know are bad for them, or fail to do things, like take medication, which they know will be helpful" Unlike conventional economics, which assumes that when presented with adequate information people will make decisions that are in their own best interests, behavioral economics recognizes that individuals are prone to biases that impede their ability to make good choices. The authors advocate exploiting these decision-making biases to help people make better decisions without taking away their freedom of choice a strategy they label asymmetric paternalism.

Take weight loss. Many of us, around the holidays, resolve to lose weight starting after the New Year. But when the time comes, many people fail to make good on this resolution. Rather than a simple lack of willpower, t
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Contact: Jonathan Potts
jpotts@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-6094
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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