Nudge and the Politics of Wellbeing

Why the ‘Change4Life’ campaign is an anti-obesity ‘nudge’ that glosses over social inequality

The rise of populist politics, evidenced in Brexit and the election of Trump, is sending shockwaves through advanced liberal democracies. Some commentators have diagnosed these developments as a protest at governments’ failure to address the deep social problems which exist in society. In particular, neoliberalism has led to a failure to address social inequality and its corollaries, partly because of fiscal austerity and partly because a creed of free market competition which fears regulatory interventions (even to curb industrial practices that are demonstrably harmful, like the over-production of cheap fat and sugar-laden foods). Unwilling or unable to pay for the spiralling (health and other) costs resulting (directly and indirectly) from these social inequalities, governments eschew social investment in favour of social blame. It is in this context that the concept of ‘nudge’ has gained currency among political elites in the UK and elsewhere. In this commentary I critically examine its use in anti-obesity policy and question the efficacy and morality of an approach which subtly reinforces lines of social inequality through its policy messages. Continue reading “Nudge and the Politics of Wellbeing”