A Whitehall unit set up to find discreet ways to change behaviour has begun talks with supermarkets over using their vast databases to help improve the nation’s heath.
The head of the Behavioural Insights Team said that supermarkets had more information about their customers than doctors did and that this information should be harnessed. Shoppers buying large amounts of fatty foods, alcohol and unhealthy products could be quickly identified and offered advice on changing their diet. Parents buying what appears to be an unbalanced diet for their children may also be targeted.
David Halpern, the head of the Cabinet Office team known as the “nudge unit”, said: “If you go and buy your stuff regularly, they [the supermarkets] know exactly what you are buying.”
It is understood that supermarkets will be encouraged to offer advice to their customers but Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, has ruled out any Government involvement in the programme. Ministers are thought to be wary of “big brother” accusations and have no wish to study people’s shopping bills.
Areas to think about:
- What do you think about data being used in this way?
- Are there any civil liberty concerns?
- Would it actually improve health?