Through work with the Discovery Vitality Group, we have successfully shown considerable, sustained increases in physical activity levels through the use of incentives and disincentives.
Cother Hajat was the lead author of the award-winning World Economic Forum White Paper on Vitality’s programme to increase physical activity and improve lifestyle behaviours. In Human-Centric Health: Behaviour change and the prevention of Noncommunicable Disease, recognised as a leading health innovative programme at Davos Jan 2017.
The Vitality programme, an insurance-based incentives approach originating in South Africa, breaks down long-term health improvement goals into achievable steps and provides rewards for small accomplishments with measurable health and lifestyle gains.
In a three-and-a-half-year engagement study, the programme identified an increase in healthy food purchases among members, along with reduced hospitalization and length of hospital stays, and lower medical and prescription costs per participant. These successes were attributed to high employee engagement within companies that:
– Promoted participation through a strong wellness communication strategy (capitalizing on information framing).
– Provided upfront incentives and a platform that promoted ongoing rewards for healthy behaviour (recognizing employees’ bias for near-term rewards).
– Recruited an internal wellness champion who helped establish a social norm of good health.
– Offered services such as on-site health screening (making these an easy and convenient default choice for employees).
A five-year study of more than 100,000 Vitality members in the US found increases in the average number of weekly minutes of physical activity among participants. The greatest change occurred among the least active members, who experienced an increase of as much as 150% in their weekly minutes of activity. Furthermore, incremental physical activity was followed by improvements in other health-promoting behaviour and overall health status. The study also found that increased activity among members from the least-active group yielded the greatest improvement in their Vitality Age, a composite measure used to assess overall health status and risk of death.