Preferences & Perceptions

My name is Polina Hanin. This blog is about what's in my head at a given point in time.
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At the Healthcare Hub of Social Media Week in NY, it seems like the theme of today has been “the nudge”. Essentially, how do we get people to make healthy choices, without making them realize that they are even doing it. 

Dr. Pam Peeke's concept was to make healthy living fun and remove the overbearing concept of exercise. Shockingly, that one hour work-out, even when you feel like you're about to vomit from exhaustion, isn't enough. Sitting in front of a computer/TV screen for 4 hours can double your risk of heart failure. So simple tasks like getting up once an hour for a couple of minutes can greatly reduce risks of heart failure and diabetes. She greatly advocates looking like a fool and dancing around, fidgeting, anything to get your body moving. So please don't give me weird looks when you see me grooving in a chair/on a train platform/in line for a public bathroom. I'm exercising, damnit! [Video for the talk found here.]

Dr. Michael Roizen is the Chief Wellness Officer at Cleveland Clinic, and has been instrumental in implementing 52 programs at the Clinic that not only help its employees remain healthy, but have saved the Clinic millions of dollars in healthcare costs. Among the programs are smoking cessation clinics (along with no smoking anywhere on campus and no hiring of smokers), free gym classes and no soda machines. At first blush, these programs seem very paternalistic. I asked Dr. Roizen after the talk what the employees thought of that, and he said that there was push-back at first, but once the employees gained trust in the organization and realized that these programs were for their own benefit (and not merely Cleveland Clinic) they began to participate. The key, he said, was not just to increase the healthy options which target people who are already healthy, but rather to eliminate the unhealthy ones. [Video for the talk found here.]

The key to nudging is just that - it’s a nudge in the right direction. Simple things like opt-out of a program rather than opt-in. Or calorie counters at the end of a stair-case. Or eliminating some foods from a cafeteria. None of these really cost much money for a company, but make a huge difference for employees and the bottom line in a few years. To read more about nudging, there is a great New York Times article by Prof. Richard Thaler from the alma mater of yours truly, who also wrote a book on the concept, about making being a good citizen fun.