Landmark Study Suggests Financial Incentives Can Boost Physical Activity Levels Among Consumers

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LONDON, United Kingdom — A new study scrutinising the rewards programmes offered by UK private health insurer Vitality suggests offering financial incentives to customers increased their physical activity levels, on average, by 34% — providing fresh evidence for workplace wellness providers to back up their propositions.

The research by RAND Europe examined the effect of Vitality’s reward programme on more than 400,000 people from the UK, US and South Africa, in what’s been described as the “largest behaviour change study on physical activity”.

The study contrasted two schemes, one which rewards individuals for tracking and reaching different thresholds of physical activity. The other, called Active Rewards with Apple Watch, enabled members to drastically reduce their monthly repayments for the smartwatch if they hit a weekly quota of physical activity – typically around 12,500 steps five days a week.

The Apple Watch scheme lead to a more pronounced behaviour change in “unhealthy individuals” than seen in already “relatively more active and healthy individuals”.

On average, participants on the Apple Watch scheme increased their physical activity levels by
34%, amounting to 4.8 extra days of activity per month. Significantly, activity levels increased across the customer spectrum, regardless of health status, age or gender and persisted over the full 24-month repayment period of the Apple Watch.

Vitality Founder, Adrian Gore, said the study would contribute to a deeper understanding of how people can be incentivised to live fitter and healthier lives. “The significance for individuals, the insurance industry and wider society is profound,” he said.

This study’s implications for workplace wellness schemes could be significant yet it also highlights a risk that only the wealthy will be able to benefit from such opportunities. As the wellness economy grows at an unprecedented rate, there are risks that the gap between the healthy high income and unhealthy low-income sections of society will only widen.

Reacting to the findings, ukactive CEO Steven Ward told Health Club Management: “This unparalleled research proves that inspiring physical activity on a global scale is not only possible but deliverable.

“This study should be at the forefront of the Health Secretary’s mind as he turns the focus towards prevention over cure. The challenge now is to develop an affordable and integrated model for physical activity that targets the communities that need it most.

“As our health and social care systems creak under the strain of an ageing society, the insurance sector has a powerful role to play in using physical activity to help us move more and age well.”

According to the 2018 Global Wellness Economy Monitor, released this October, only 10% of the world’s workers have access to workplace wellness programs and services. Of these, they are heavily concentrated in high-income countries in North America (54%) and Europe (25%) but provided to just 1% in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Global Wellness Institute suggests “there is a growing perception that most of the latest
products, services, technologies, and innovations are catering only to the wealthiest Consumers”. However, Vitality has announced a global initiative in collaboration with its network of international insurance partners to make 100 million people 20% more active by 2025.

During the unveiling of the findings in London, Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, added that: “These results are a tangible example of the way Apple Watch can help users take control of improving their health.”

He concluded that the results were “an exciting indicator of how much more can be achieved” — encouraging a positive outlook for startups in the burgeoning space.

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