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Just what the doctor ordered

9 February, 2024

They say that health is wealth, but the relationship between the two is not so simple. In the face of abundant cheap unhealthy food, it’s easy to cut costs and be in poor health. And poor diet costs us financially given the big pressure it places on health systems. With obesity costing the NHS £6.5bn annually and expected to hit almost £10bn by 2050, there’s a clear need to act.

It’s in response to these issues that the Government has funded a pilot project in Wolverhampton to directly incentivise healthy behaviour. Participants in the scheme use wrist-worn devices to track activity and have access to an app giving personalised health recommendations, such as increasing their step count or eating more fruit and vegetables. If they follow through, they are rewarded with vouchers for food and clothes, as well as discounts on entertainment and events. A twenty-week trial involving 28,000 people saw increases in both exercise and healthy eating, with signs that the changes people made may stick.

This will be familiar to anyone who has health insurance with Vitality, which has been pioneering the shared value model for health insurance for around thirty years. With a bigger data set than the recent Government-backed trial, Vitality has found 30% lower hospitalisation costs, 7% to 14% lower healthcare costs for members than non-Vitality members and a reduction of 7% in probable hospitalisation rates – great news for its members and reducing payouts to healthcare providers.

Each £1 invested in public health interventions could offer an average return on investment to the wider health and social care economy of £14. But with cost savings typically taking five to ten years to be realised – crucially, more than one political term – preventative healthcare only accounts for 5% of healthcare spending in the UK. It’s promising to see the Government and businesses supporting individuals to take steps to remedy this situation. And it’s powerful proof of the way careful incentivisation can drive real behaviour change.

By Patrick Bapty

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