Latest Blog Posts & Articles


Watch Out for Snack Food

People are correctly paying a great deal of attention to just how many calories it is possible to consume at American restaurants these days. The New York Times, in fact, recently showed just how many calories people typically consume at Chipotle:

Watch Out for Snack Food 1

But as the folks at Vox pointed out in a follow-up post, in focusing our attention on those calorie packed entrées, we shouldn’t forget about another very important source of calories – snacks! In fact, according to one study, by David Cutler, it is snack calories that changed the most in the US between 1977 in 1996:

Watch Out for Snack Food 2

Does anybody have any more recent data than this? With so many more people eating out for meals now, I wonder how this has changed.

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The Anchoring Heuristic Courtesy of Dilbert

Heuristics is jargon used by decision psychologists and behavioral economists to refer to cognitive shortcuts we humans take to make judgments and decisions. One of the first heuristics identified as such by Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky was the anchoring heuristic. I would define it for you, but it is wonderfully captured in this cartoon:

Anchoring Heuristic Dilbert

Posted in Behavioral Economics and Public Policy | Tagged

How Do Scientists’ Beliefs Differ from Those of Laypeople?

Do you think it is safe to eat genetically modified foods? I do, because I believe that most foods we eat have been genetically modified. Cows wouldn’t be cows if humans hadn’t changed them genetically, through breeding practices. That also might be because I’m a scientist, and one of the beliefs that separates scientists from laypeople’s belief is whether genetically modified foods are harmful. Here is a list of other beliefs, from a Pew Center pole:

How Do Scientists’ Beliefs Differ from Those of Laypeople

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Incentive to Stop Smoking?

In the United States, the FDA tried to mandate that cigarette companies put nasty images of the harms of smoking onto cigarette packages, images that would take up at least half of the carton. It looks like that effort has failed, because the courts have determined that it violates the First Amendment. I wonder what the courts will think about this graphic image, which somebody painted onto the ceiling of a “smoker’s room”.

Incentive to Stop Smoking

That’s got to give people reason for pause.

Posted in Behavioral Economics and Public Policy | Tagged , ,

Would Better Risk Communication Reduce Fear of Flying?

With so much recent news about airplane disasters, it’s easy to become frightened about flying. I wonder if a risk graphic like the following will do much to help?

Am I Going Down AppAs reported on recently in The Economist, the risk graphic comes from a new iPhone app called Am I Going Down?

I’m skeptical this will work. But I still love the way their display puts this risk information into a context we can all relate to. Hurrah!

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When Helpful Nudges Aren’t Helpful

Gerald Ashley (twitter handle @Gerald_Ashley) recently tweeted a photo of what was SUPPOSED to be a helpful nudge, reducing the odds that people would bump into each other going up and down the stairs. Can you see what might not be helpful here?

When Helpful Nudges Aren't Helpful

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Health Insurance Is About Financial Security Too

People like me, trained to be physicians, have pushed hard to promote health insurance in the United States because we believe, with some evidence to back up our claims, that good health insurance promotes better health. When people don’t have insurance, they delay necessary medical care for too long, and their health suffers as a consequence.

But probably the most direct benefit of health insurance is financial. When people have good health insurance, they are less likely to be burdened by medical costs. That is one of the findings revealed in a recent survey published by The Commonwealth Foundation. Here is a wonderful info graphic illustrating some of their results:

Health Insurance Is About Financial Security Too

Posted in Health Policy | Tagged , , , ,

If You Look for Cancer, You’ll Find It

Korea Thyroid Cancer PicWhat would you like first: the good news or the bad news? Let me start with the bad. Life expectancy among patients in the U.S. with thyroid cancer lags behind that in Korea. In fact, the vast majority of patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Korea are cured of that illness, a statement I can’t as easily make about the U.S.

The good news? Life expectancy among patients in the U.S. with thyroid cancer lags behind that in Korea.

Okay, I kind of pulled a fast one on you. I tried to mislead you into thinking it is bad when cancer patients in another country out-live cancer patients in the U.S. On the surface, living longer after experiencing a cancer diagnosis seems to be a good thing. All else equal, it is better to survive cancer than to die from it.

But all else is far from equal when it comes to thyroid cancer in the U.S. versus Korea. (To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)

Posted in Health & Well-being, Health Policy, Medical Decision Making, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

The Things We Do To Lose Weight

Want to lose weight? Then what are you going to do to try to accomplish your goal? Specifically, what will you do to change your eating habits?

Probably the best thing you can do – eating habit wise – to lose weight is to eat less food. But as you will see from this picture below, which I learned about thanks to Pierre Chandon (@pierrechandon, on Twitter), that’s not the primary strategy most people pursue. Instead they think about specific type of food ingredients, and try to cut down on them – ingredients like fats and sugar. Or they try to eat more healthy foods – foods like fruits and vegetables.

And while there are some interesting differences in approaches across the world, what I find even more interesting is how consistent these behaviors are almost no matter where you live:

Things We Do To Lose Weight

The bottom line: people seem to think a lot more about what they eat rather than how much they eat. Which is a shame, because when it comes to dieting, less really is more.

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Millions To Be Made On…Generic Drugs?

Photo Credit: Policy and Medicine

Photo Credit: Policy and Medicine

It is well accepted among health economics wonks that the lion’s share of pharmaceutical company profits come when these companies hold exclusive rights to their products. Once their blockbuster pills go “generic,” competitors enter the marketplace and profits plummet. Consider captopril, a groundbreaking heart failure medication introduced in the early 80s by Bristol-Myers Squibb under the trade name Capoten. After making a fortune for the company, captopril went generic in 1996. By 2013, you could purchase a captopril pill for the lofty price of…hold your breath…1.4 cents.

Not many fortunes to be made at that price.

Of late however, the well-accepted cheapness of generic drugs has come under question, in the face of surprising price hikes for long time medications. As reported in the New England Journal of Medicine by Jonathan Alpern and colleagues, captopril has experienced a 2800% price hike. Okay that still leaves the pill pretty affordable, at 40 cents a pop, but that’s still a pretty hefty price hike for a generic pill that competes against other generic medications.

(To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)

Posted in Health Policy, Medical Decision Making, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,