Using Behavioral Economics to Get Fit

March 3, 2017
by Aleena Karamally

For decades, insufficient physical activity has been identified as a leading cause of many non-communicable diseases, including strokes, diabetes, heart disease and some kinds of cancer. Still, according to objective measurement approximately 96 percent of adults 20 to 59 in the U.S. do not meet the guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity and 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week.

On Amir, associate professor of Marketing at the Rady School of Management, recently co-authored a paper, Physical Activity Counseling in Primary Care: Insights From Public Health and Behavioral Economics, which helps address this issue. The paper uses principles of behavioral economics to apply an existing method of advising, the 5A framework, to the integration of physical activity counseling into primary care as a preventative medicine measure.

The 5A Framework involves a five-step plan to addressing an insufficient amount of physical activity in a patient’s life. The five steps are assess current physical activity levels, advise on increasing activity levels in relation to patient’s lab reports, agree on a physical activity plan with attainable goals and specific information on frequency and intensity, assist in creating strategies to overcome impediments to meeting goals, and arrange follow-up visits and reminders.

Overall, the paper uses principles of behavioral economics to analyze the reasons for decisions to engage in physical activity. Using these principles, the paper suggests the most effective methods of physical activity counseling for primary care physicians. It also notes the necessity for future research in determining the efficacy of these strategies in a clinical setting.

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