This week’s episode is called “Why You Should Bribe Your Kids.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
Let’s say you’re trying to get a bunch of kids to eat more nutritious food. What’s the best way to do this — education, moral urging, or plain old bribery? That’s one of the questions that a pair of economists set out to answer in a recent field experiment in Chicago. In this podcast, you’ll hear from both of them: John List, a University of Chicago professor (and co-author of The Why Axis who’s familiar to readers of this blog); and Anya Samek, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Read More »
Remember this blog post in which a reader asked if the McDouble is perhaps “the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history”? It spawned a lot of commentary on the blog and we followed it up with a Freakonomics Radio podcast.
Now the question has been taken up by many others, spurred on by a N.Y. Post column by Kyle Smith and echoed by, among others, Yahoo! and the Wall Street Journal in this country and, in the U.K., the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Times.
I have gotten about one zillion media requests to talk further about the story but I am busy writing so I had to turn them down.
If you scroll through the comments on the links above — the Yahoo! post has more than 4,000 comments as of this writing — you will likely be struck, as I was, by how great Freakonomics commenters are compared to the rest of the world. Literate, lucid, knowledgable, and even when you get enraged you manage to say something useful.
All hail the readers of this blog!
A reader named Ralph Thomas observes the following:
It has been my gut-level (sorry, pun) feeling for a while now that the McDonald’s McDouble, at 390 Calories, 23g (half a daily serving) of protein, 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and iron, etc., is the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history.
Who would like to argue against him? And if you attack on the “nutritious” dimension (I suspect you will), be very specific.
An article in Choices by David R. Just and Brian Wansink illustrates how school administrators can use behavioral economics to nudge kids toward good eating choices and away from the obesity-causing junk food. Just and Wansink point out that administrators often face a difficult choice between nutritious meals and the bottom line:
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It may be possible to replace the standard cheese pizza on white flour crust with pizza smothered in spinach, artichoke hearts, and other vegetables on a whole wheat flaxseed crust. But the healthier pizza is more expensive, and fewer children may want to eat it. Hence many school districts walk a tightrope. School districts must increase the health content of their sales while trying to avoid any reduction in their financial viability. Eliminating the less nutritional items often means eliminating the meal budget’s highest margin items. Further, child patronage of the school lunch program is understandably dependent upon schools offering foods that students are familiar with and that they like, and that will satisfy their appetites.
Humans run on a fuel called food. Yet economists and other social scientists rarely study what people eat. We provide simple evidence consistent with the existence of a link between the consumption of fruit and vegetables and high well-being. In cross-sectional data, happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The pattern is remarkably robust to adjustment for a large number of other demographic, social and economic variables. Well-being peaks at approximately 7 portions per day. We document this relationship in three data sets, covering approximately 80,000 randomly selected British individuals, and for seven measures of well-being (life satisfaction, WEMWBS mental well-being, GHQ mental disorders, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and feeling low).
One major note: the researchers caution that reverse causality may be an issue. That is, rather than fruit and vegetables causing well-being, it may be that well-adjusted people prefer eating a lot of fruit and vegetables. The authors recommend additional “randomized trials to explore the consequences for mental health of different levels of fruit-and-vegetable consumption.”
Modern consumers enjoy something that humans throughout history never have: we can walk into a grocery store and, if we choose wisely, leave with food that maximizes our health. Much maligned as the industrial food system has been, it’s made accessible a broad diversity of beneficial foods that, consumed regularly, prevent disease and enhance the quality of life. The fact that one is able to eat a cornucopia of “superfoods”–blueberries, bananas, kale, lentils, quinoa, and avocados–on a daily basis is an under-appreciated wonder of globalization and world trade.
But the vast majority of the developing world lacks access to this abundance. In fact, billions of people living in developing countries are dependent on a single staple crop for their sustenance. In sub-Saharan Africa, 250 million people eat cassava as their primary food source; over half the world depends on rice for 80% of their calories; wheat accounts for 20% of the world’s food energy intake. This narrow dependence might meet baseline caloric needs, but it’s a nutritional disaster.
How to bridge the gap between the nutritional haves and have-nots is a hotly contested issue. Some support the development of small-scale but modernized organic systems serving regional markets. Others promote replacing traditional peasant agriculture with the industrialized approach of agribusiness. Yet others would like to see local farmers empowered to practice indigenous methods. Whichever schemes ultimately prevail (hopefully a combination of all), there’s one solution that must be included irrespective of agricultural scale or scope: crops must be biofortified. That is, we need to plant seeds that have been bred to enhance nutritional value. Read More »
What happens to eating habits in the face of unemployment? Nothing good, according to a new working paper by Dhaval M. Dave and Inas Rashad Kelly. Read More »
Vitamin D: should we take less or triple that intake? Whatever you do, don’t just read this headline and run with it. Read More »