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Strategic Ignorance of Health Risk: Its Causes and Policy Consequences

Jonas Nordström, Linda Thunström (), Klaas van ’t Veld (), Jason Shogren () and Mariah Ehmke ()
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Linda Thunström: Department of Economics, University of Wyoming
Klaas van ’t Veld: Department of Economics, University of Wyoming
Mariah Ehmke: Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wyoming

No 2018/09, IFRO Working Paper from University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics

Abstract: We examine the causes and policy consequences of strategic (willful) ignorance of risk as an excuse to overengage in risky health behavior. In an experiment on Copenhagen adults, we allow subjects to choose whether to learn the calorie content of a meal before consuming it, and measure their subsequent calorie intake. We find strong evidence of strategic ignorance: 46% of subjects choose to ignore calorie information, and these subjects subsequently consume more calories on average than they would have had they been informed. We find that strategically ignorant subjects downplay the health risk of their preferred meal being high-calorie, which we formally show is consistent with the theory of optimal expectations about risk. Further, we find that the prevalence of strategic ignorance largely negates the effectiveness of calorie information provision: on average, subjects who have the option to ignore calorie information consume about the same number of calories as subjects who are provided no information.

Keywords: strategic ignorance; willful ignorance; risk perception; optimal expectations; calories; information. (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D11 D12 D81 D83 D91 I12 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-exp and nep-hea
Date: 2018-09
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