Can Social Design Curb the Obesity Epidemic?

carrotCan various rules and rewards imposed upon society curb certain tendencies and encourage others? Can our environment be “engineered” to help change us and make being fit a bigger priority in our lives? A post on CalorieLab got me thinking about this, and I’m curious about others’ opinions on the topic.

As I wrote after reading the entry over there about the UK’s implementation of various incentives (bribes?) to prod citizens to make healthy changes, I couldn’t help but think of an article I read recently about online multiplayer games (like World of Warcraft). A lot of new players are scared off from them because, frankly, the more experienced players often act like complete jerks. However, this article posits that social design (which has been effective in getting people to curb using their cell phones in movie theaters, for example) can be effective in curbing undesirable behaviors in online gaming, too. It’s a very interesting read.

I wonder if the same principles of social and environmental design will be applied to issues related to obesity and fitness with good results. Looking at things in this light, I can see how the “bribes” the UK is offering might actually work, even if they can’t singlehandedly stem the tide of obesity. What do you think?