Could financial incentives be the key to getting people more physically active?
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Could financial incentives be the key to getting people more physically active?

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A study by research institute RAND Europe has suggested that there is a guaranteed way to dramatically increase people's physical activity levels – by offering them tangible financial rewards.

Described as the "largest behaviour change study on physical activity" RAND charted the behaviours of more than 400,000 people in the UK, US and South Africa.

The study examined the effect of a physical activity rewards programme run by health insurer Vitality.

Vitality traditionally offers its customers "treats" – such as cinema tickets and retail vouchers – in return for regular trips to the gym, which are verified by swiping membership cards.

For the study, however, Vitality launched a new incentive with a direct financial benefit.

Called Vitality Active Rewards with Apple Watch, the programme allowed members to acquire an Apple Watch by paying a minimal up-front amount – and then reducing their monthly payments to zero by meeting their physical activity goals.

Participants taking up the Apple Watch offer increased their physical activity levels, on average, by 34 per cent – which translates to 4.8 extra days of activity per month.

Crucially, activity levels increased across the customer spectrum, regardless of health status, age or gender.

According to Vitality founder, Adrian Gore, the study proved that the incentive of not having to pay more for the watch was an effective way of increasing activity levels.

"This landmark study contributes to a deeper understanding of how people can be incentivised to live fitter and healthier lives," Gore said.

"The significance for individuals, the insurance industry and wider society is profound."

The findings were revealed at an event in London, which was attended by the UK health secretary Matt Hancock and Nobel Prize-winning economist – and author of Nudge – Richard Thaler.

Responding to the findings of the report, ukactive CEO Steven Ward said: “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.”

To read the full RAND Europe report, click here.

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A study by research institute RAND Europe has suggested that there is a simple way to dramatically increase people's physical activity levels – by offering them tangible financial rewards.

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