Wageningen University & Research: Behavioural expertise key in effective lifestyle policy

The importance of a healthy lifestyle is structurally underexposed, made painfully clear by the corona pandemic. Much more attention should be paid to the expertise of behavioural change in one of the greatest social challenges: encouraging people to adopt a healthy lifestyle and prevention, especially in times of Covid. This is illustrated by the effect of policy during the pandemic, which highlighted that simply informing or advising people is not enough. After all, a change in lifestyle is a change in behaviour. That is why twelve renowned behavioural experts are now calling for action: give behavioural expertise a prominent role in the development and implementation of lifestyle interventions and policies; only then will we achieve our goal of a sustainable, healthier Netherlands.
Behavioural science expertise

So far, behavioural science expertise has been used only to a limited extent in keeping healthcare inclusive, affordable, and available. Policy measures and interventions are introduced without sufficiently embedding state of the art behavioural science, resulting in limited effectiveness and the failure of many programmes or measures. In the position paper Gedragsexpertise is de sleutel tot effectief leefstijlbeleid (behavioural expertise is the key to effective lifestyle policy), endorsed by many prominent organisations and experts, behavioural experts stress the crucial importance of behaviour change expertise in disease prevention and health care.

One of the 12 behavioural experts who co-authored the position paper is Emely de Vet, Professor of Consumption and Healthy Lifestyles at WUR: “Lifestyles reflect behavioural practices, and if we want to encourage a healthier lifestyle, we must first understand why people adopt unhealthy behaviours and what is needed for sustainable behavioural change. These behavioural insights are crucial for more effective lifestyle policies and interventions. The behavioural sciences already provide us with so much knowledge. Now that the current healthcare system is under such pressure, with a growing emphasis on prevention, there has never been a better time to utilise this behavioural expertise.”
Using momentum

Let us make use of the current momentum, and apply the behavioural science insights already present to advance the policy and practice of disease prevention in the Netherlands. The corona pandemic has shown us that behavioural change is essential. Behavioural scientists know how behavioural change can be effectively supported, and how this will create a healthier and more vital Netherlands for all. To achieve this, however, it is imperative that behavioural expertise play a much more prominent role in policy and intervention development.