Health Rewards – Useful or Useless

Reward - GotCreditBlog post by Colin Hung.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations online and in-person on the topic of rewards for healthy behavior.

I find the concept of “Health Rewards” interesting. As a consumer, I admit that I am motivated by reward programs. I tend to fly the same airline, stay with the same hotel chain and use the same credit card just so that I can maximize the rewards these companies offer. In my case, the rewards definitely affect my behavior.

Rewarding people for healthy behavior (eating well, exercising and proactively managing chronic conditions) seems to make a lot of sense. There is plenty of evidence that simply knowing the consequences of unhealthy behavior is not sufficient to motivate most people to change their lifestyles. In 2012, Statistics Canada released the results of a 12 year longitudinal study of Canadians aged 50 years and older and how diagnosis of a chronic illness affected their behviour. The study’s conclusion is revealing:

This study reveals that people rarely made positive changes in lifestyle behaviours after they had been diagnosed with a chronic condition. Smoking cessation and reductions in the number of cigarettes smoked were the changes most commonly reported, but the vast majority of smokers continued to smoke.

People with diabetes were the most likely to report positive behaviour changes, although the improvements were modest. Those diagnosed with diabetes reduced smoking and excessive drinking and increased their leisure-time physical activity and fruit and vegetable consumption. By contrast, people diagnosed with respiratory disease reported no change in smoking or fruit and vegetable consumption, and were less likely to be physically active.

Clearly something more is needed to push people to make lifestyle changes.

Fitness trackers now give people the ability to not only quantify their healthy behaviors: what they eat, how many steps they take, what their heart rate is, calories burned, etc, but they also offer the ability to compare your performance within your social network. Walk 10,000 steps for five days straight and you were rewarded with a virtual achievement badge on your profile that all your friends could see. Lose 10lbs and see a “-10” next to your name.

These forms of Social Health Rewards can be very powerful and for some, it can lead to sustained results. For most, however, the effect is short-lived and after the novelty wears off, we return to our unhealthy behaviors.

Health insurance companies and employers have been quick to hop onto the health rewards train. Many health plans now offer cash and reduced premiums as incentives for healthy behavior. Keeping your blood pressure in check, working with a health coach and exercising regularly can net you hundreds of dollars.

The question is, do these types of financial and social health rewards work? Are financial rewards the answer we are looking for or do need fear and social influence as well? Join us Tuesday November 17th 2015 at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) when we will discuss the following topics together:

  • T1 What motivated you to stop an unhealthy behavior/start a health one? Was a financial reward a factor?
  • T2 What do you believe is the best way to motivate healthier lifestyles? Money? Fear? Social pressure? All the above?
  • T3 Do rewards need to be different based on age, social-economic factors, health situation, etc to be effective?
  • T4 As healthcare leaders what can we do in our places of work to encourage peers to adopt healthier behaviors?

Resources

“Simply knowing about health risks does not change behavior”, Arya Sharma MD, KevinMD.com, June 6 2013, http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/06/simply-knowing-health-risks-change-behavior.html, accessed November 15 2015

“Health behavior changes after diagnosis of chronic illness among Canadians aged 50 or older”, Newsom et al, Statistics Canada, December 4 2012, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2012004/article/11740-eng.pdf, accessed November 15 2015

“Why it’s hard to change unhealthy behavior – and why you should keep trying”, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, January 2007, http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-its-hard-to-change-unhealthy-behavior, accessed November 15 2015

“Employers Try To Spur Healthy Behaviors With Health Plan Rewards”, Michelle Andrews, NPR, March 26 2013, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/03/26/175387366/employers-try-to-spur-healthy-behaviors-with-health-plan-rewards, accessed November 15 2015

“Employer health incentives”, Larry Hand, Harvard School of Public Health, 2009, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/winter09healthincentives/, accessed November 15 2015

“More employers use workplace wellness programs to reward healthy behavior”, Matt Dunning, Business Insurance, January 18 2015, http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20150118/NEWS03/301189978, accessed November 15 2015

“Rewarding Healthy Behaviors – Pay Patients for Performance”, Joanne Wu MD, Annals of Family Medicine, May 2012, http://www.annfammed.org/content/10/3/261.full, accessed November 15 2015

Image Credit

Rewards – GotCredit https://flic.kr/p/rCYG94

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