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Why does a person engage in behaviors, such as eating high-calorie foods or keeping a sedentary lifestyle, that provide an immediate reward over behaviors that offer health benefits in the long run? Understanding the time dimension of health preferences, or intertemporal health preferences, has been an important area of inquiry for medical decision making. The concept of discounting over time has been central to this understanding. Time discounting of preferences refers to the common situation where money, goods, services, and other outcomes are more highly valued when obtained in the present than those occurring in the future. When all things are equal, a given reward is more desirable when obtained sooner than later. The section below provides an introduction to discounting in intertemporal choices and ...

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