War on obesity: New UK scheme offers financial rewards to be healthy

Participants in the pilot scheme will be given wrist-worn devices and access to the app that will generate personalised health recommendations



Britain's Health Secretary Sajid Javid during a visit to a Covid-19 vaccination centre. — AFP
Britain's Health Secretary Sajid Javid during a visit to a Covid-19 vaccination centre. — AFP

By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Thu 2 Dec 2021, 10:23 PM

Would you make healthier food choices and exercise more if you are offered financial rewards?

Keen to tackle the scourge of growing obesity and its consequences, the Boris Johnson government has announced an app-based pilot in the west Midlands city of Wolverhampton, where people will be rewarded with vouchers for shops, theme park passes and cinema tickets.

Led by AI and data science major HeadUp Systems, participants in the pilot scheme will be given wrist-worn devices and access to the app that will generate personalised health recommendations, such as increasing their step count or eating more fruit and vegetables.

Users will collect points for healthy behaviours which they will be able to cash in for rewards, including discounts for cinema or theme park tickets, and clothes or food vouchers.

Nearly two-thirds of adults in England are estimated to be living with excess weight or obesity.

Wolverhampton residents from this week are eligible to register their interest and sign up for the pilot that will launch in early 2022 and will run for six months. The town has a large population of south Asian origin.

Officials said the pilot is part of the UK government’s “world-leading healthy weight strategy”, and one of the initiatives of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to use digital technology to improve physical health and prevent health conditions before they develop.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This pilot is an exciting opportunity to see how we can empower people to make healthy changes to their lifestyle and I would encourage all adults in Wolverhampton to come forward and register their interest.”

“Taking part will help us better understand how rewards can help motivate people to make small adjustments to their daily lives that will have a lasting positive impact on their health. I want to make it easier for people to make healthy choices,” he added.

Obesity-related illnesses are estimated to cost the National Health Service £6 billion a year and the scale of the challenge has been highlighted by Covid-19 disproportionately affecting people who are overweight.

The officials added that Wolverhampton was chosen for the pilot due to its large population size, with a third of residents classed as being physically inactive and a below average number of adults in the city eating their five-a-day.

The Health Incentives Scheme was announced as part of a £100 million package of government support to help those living with obesity to move closer towards a healthier weight and give them the tools they need to maintain this. Following a competitive tender process, HeadUp was chosen to deliver the scheme.


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