This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Efficacy of Price Interventions for Mitigating Childhood Obesity by Promoting Healthy Food Choices: An fMRI Study in Parents with Low Socioeconomic Status




Zou, Hao

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Electrical and Computer Engineering


Childhood obesity has been a rising problem among rural and low income populations. Childhood obesity increases the risk of various diseases later in life. Government has tried several price interventions such as lowering tax and giving subsidies to encourage parents to shop more healthy food for their family. The efficacy of such fiscal policies is currently being debated. In this thesis, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is employed as a tool to understand the mechanistic underpinnings of neural processes while parents from lower socioeconomic status choose between healthy foods with lower than normal taxes or subsidy, compared with unhealthy foods without price interventions. First, we show that healthy food items elicit least reward response in the brain and unhealthy food items elicit maximal reward response. Further, by offering lower tax or subsidy on healthy food items, the reward response in the brain for such items were significantly enhanced. Second, we demonstrate that subsidy is more effective than lower tax in encouraging consumers to purchase healthy food items, driven in part, by higher reward-related response in the brain for subsidy in comparison to lower tax. Finally, we propose that it is possible to titrate the amount of subsidy or tax reductions on healthy food items so that they consistently become more preferable than unhealthy foods. This could then inform fiscal policy employed by Governments in this regard.