What do we know about the strengths and weakness of different policy mechanisms to influence health behaviour in the population?



With health care systems under increasing pressure the development of a well defined and effective public health strategy has never been more important. Many health problems are potentially avoidable and governments have long had tools at their disposal to influence population health and change individual behaviours, directed both ‘upstream’ at some of the underlying causes of poor health, as well as at ‘downstream’ challenges when poor health behaviours are already manifest. But how effective are these different actions? 

This policy summary briefly maps out what is known about some of these mechanisms, including approaches that have come to recent prominence from behavioural economics and psychology. 

Combinations of taxation, legislation and health information remain the core components of any strategy to influence behavioural change. There remain many unanswered questions on how best to design new innovative interventions that can complement, and in some instances augment, these well-established mechanisms.