Posts Tagged ‘labels’

Assorted links

February 1, 2010

1) Richard Thaler and George Osborne in the Guardian. U.K. pilot recycling programs to replace fines with rewards are showing results.

2) A new study finds calorie labeling for a hypothetical McDonald’s meal reduces calorie consumption. One key difference from past studies: People aren’t ordering meals for themselves. Parents are ordering meals for their children. Hat tip: Patti Hunter.

3) Crayola’s law says that the number of Crayola colors doubles every 28 years. How much faster do children who color with the original box of crayons finish compared to those with the mega 120-color box? Hat tip: Christopher Daggett.

4) A web-based version of Dustin Hoffman’s mason jars. Hat tip: Elliot Crosby-McCullough.

Assorted links

October 7, 2009

1) Many readers pointed to a story on a study about the effect of posting calories in fast food restaurants. Customers noticed the signs and thought they influenced their orders. But they actually ordered food with more calories. Reader Paul Zurawski wonders if customers would have eaten healthier if they had been asked to sign a receipt acknowledging their choices and calorie counts.

2) The top ten annoying alarm clocks. Clocky is No. 1. Hat tip: Daniel Lee.

3) Google’s PowerMeter now works with a handheld device that starts at about $200. What this means is that you would not need a utility company to install a smart meter in your building. Hat tip: Christopher Daggett.

4) The San Francisco airport has begun selling carbon offsets at the electronic check-in kiosks. Philip Frankenfeld has many catchy slogans for this nudge including “Pay dime. Help clime” and “You are now free to roam around the carbon”.

Addendum 5) A vase that lets you know when your flower needs watering. As water evaporates, the vase tilts. Hat tip: John Gibbard.

Nudges abound

February 10, 2009

Over the last few days, lots of links and brief observations have poured into the blog. Some highlights are below.

Parking: Paul Sweeney observes that the parking spaces in Florence are the size of a smart car, making them unwelcome to hulking sedans and trucks. (Of course the streets are much narrower too!) If cities want to reduce driving in their urban cores, why not paint the parking space lines closer together?

Alarm clocks: Who knew all the ways these would turn out to be nudges? First, there was the alarm clock that hides under the bed when it goes off; then there was the alarm clock that donates to an organization you despite each time you hit the snooze button; now there is the alarm clock that won’t stop buzzing until you do thirty reps with it. It’s shaped like a dumbbell. Maybe it will one day come in different weights. (Hat tip: Adora Tsang)

Spending: We’re not sure nudging spending by anyone carrying around massive credit card debt should be a government policy goal, but Dan Newman thinks federal tax cuts/rebates/refunds – pick your favorite description – should come as debit cards ($2,000, he says) instead of checks. That way, none of it could be socked away in a bank. The Obama administration has considered this idea, but thinks it is not yet logistically feasible. It was tried after Katrina, but getting cards out to tens of thousands in a few cities is much different than getting them to tens of millions in cities everywhere.

Vending machines: The University of Virginia has created a vending machine that uses the traffic light system to label various food options. The machine still sells junk food like chips and soda, but it adds a 5-cent surcharge for each one, which is donated to a children’s fitness clinic. The University’s provost told Governing magazine that year-to-year sales of green light items increased by more than 16 percent, while red light items fell by 5 percent. Apparently the clinic got the proceeds, $7,000, in nickels.

Star Trek: Ok, so this one isn’t a nudge. We weren’t the only ones who drew a link between Econs and Vulcans. So did Princeton political economy professor Uwe Reinhardt, who calls traditional economics Spockonomics.

Should home mortgages come with a label?

February 5, 2009

Over at the CL&P Blog, Jeff Sovern has more thoughts on nudges in mortgage agreements. (Earlier post is here.)

Suppose after stating the monthly payments, and especially the maximum payments under an adjustable mortgage, what would happen if the disclosure statement explicitly asked “Are you sure you can make these payments on time?  If you can’t, you may lost your home.” Or is that going from a nudge to an annoying nag–and if so, would that be bad? The late payment fee is already required to be in the “Federal Box” set of disclosures, and so won’t be far away from the statement of when payments are due, but the regulations could be amended to require that it be right next to the notice of when payments are due, just as with the credit card statement.

Before diving into the effects of one sentence’s construction or placement on a page, it’s worth stepping back for a minute. The point of Sovern’s comments, and other like them, is that clearer disclosure in the mortgage industry would be better. More disclosure would be nice too. More disclosure is one common refrain among mortgage industry reformers. And let’s not savage the government too much. Disclosure is an concept it has looked into. The question is what does better disclosure look like? To put the question another way: Should a mortgage, like a refrigerator, a car or even a box of cereal, come with a label? Is a label the best form of disclosure – as opposed to an Excel-style spreadsheet or a brief executive summary? The FTC has considered a hybrid of these two approaches already. See here for the prototype.

To Nudge blog readers: What information would you put on a mortgage label? How would you design it? Is the interest rate amount and structure the most important information? Perhaps conflicts of interest between broker and other parties?

Adapting the universal signals of traffic lights to food packaging

December 4, 2008

David Leonhardt’s “Budgets Behaving Badly” column from yesterday’s New York Times is a must-read for Nudge enthusiasts interested in how behavioral economics can be applied to public policy. One of the ideas in the column, also discussed in Nudge, is the redesign of fuel economy stickers. Another potential area for redesigned labels is food packaging, which one Nudge reader thought could benefit from a traffic light theme.

The Cancer Council of New South Wales in Australia is currently pushing the traffic light idea to help people make better nutritional decision making, following some field tests and surveys involving breakfast cereal, crispbread, and lasagna. (Hat tip to Stephen Laniel for pointing us to the study, which is here.)

Continue reading the post here.

Can you save 100 pounds of paper per year with this sticker?

December 4, 2008


This gentleman says so.

Hat tip: MJ Braide

Calorie count labels in NYC are TMI!

July 17, 2008

We like labels that give more information (clear readable information, that is). Earlier this year, New York City became first in the country to pass a law requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts for each food item in the same size and font as the price. New Yorkers took notice.

Despite the eye-opening revelations, whether New Yorkers will switch to lower calorie meals remains to be seen. They may just switch menus. That’s what Fowler, the woman who was dining recently with her friends at T.G.I. Friday’s, decided to do.

“I’m so upset,” she said, noting some entrees — like the Jack Daniels ribs and shrimp dinner — contain almost 2,000 calories, and the desserts were more of the same (the brownie obsession is 1,500 calories). “I wish they wouldn’t have done this.”

But then Fowler noticed that the waiter had handed her friend an old menu, which didn’t have calorie counts on it.

“You got a menu without anything on it?” she asked her friend. “Can I have yours?”

Maybe a black market for old, small-font menus will spring up.

A reader thinks putting symbols on labels is a better approach than dumping a list of nutritional content on diners

June 27, 2008

At, Radley Balko argues that New York’s new calorie-posting requirements for restaurants with 15 or more outlets is “bound to fail.” Condensing (and hopefully not warping) Balko’s argument: It’s expensive, restaurants that want to save money have to spend time breaking down food into basic ingredients that can be evaluated (and then locking themselves into a specific recipe), and lawsuits will still be common.

Reader Garrick Linn thinks a labeling policy might be a superior strategy to nutritional disclosure. He posted this quote on the board.

Balko raises some interesting points about the real costs of implementing various labeling policies. Perhaps NYC would be better served (so to speak) by setting up something like the EPA’s voluntary Energy Star program for food, complete with a logo and certification process. It worked for monitors…why not marzipan?

FWIW (For What it’s Worth), I’m rather skeptical of the claim that nutrition labeling has done consumers no good simply by pointing to the failure of labeling to singlehandedly reverse what is undoubtedly a complex sociobiological phenomenon; speaking as someone who actually pays attention to the information on nutritional labels (well, at least when I’m trying to lose weight) I wonder if the important issue isn’t whether or not to label so much as how the current labels are used and whether they can be improved. One study seems to indicate that consumers often erroneously assume that a single wrapped package of (say) two granola bars contains a single serving and treats the calorie count on the back accordingly…if the requirement were changed so that the count reflected the total amount of calories per individually wrapped package, this would give consumers better information based on how they actually use the labels.

Linn followed up with some comments for the Nudge blog:

In a sense the Energy Star program is a natural fit for food. After all, calories are a measure of chemical energy. There are probably better and worse ways of going about it. For example, using categories/tiers such as dessert, entrée, side dish, etc. might allow for better comparisons between dishes, but I’d worry that a creative chef might find a way to disguise a side as a dessert in order to qualify for a favorable rating if careful attention isn’t paid when drafting criteria for each category. I’m reminded of the old cliche about reclassifying certain cars as light trucks in order to get around emissions standards.

The American Heart Association has had a food certification program in place for “Heart Smart” foods since the mid-90s which grants companies the right to use a logo on specific products if certain requirements are met around fat, cholesterol and sodium (although not calories.) I’m not sure if good data is available on how successful the program has been, but even if it hasn’t done as well as originally hoped it should provide some insights into how (and whether) to take a closer look at this kind of approach.

We are not aware of any studies on the effectiveness of the food certification program, although critics blasted it (JAMA article is restricted) for requiring companies to pay the AHA a fee for the right to label its products. The AHA said it covered the costs of the labeling program. That said, the AHA’s web site features a quick way create a grocery list of only healthy-heart foods. It’s a heck of a lot faster and easier than creating a list off the FDA’s Heart Health site.


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