When a health insurer told obese people they could either pay 20% more
for coverage or start exercising, most of them decided to get active, according
to a new study.
More than 6 500 obese people insured by Blue Care Network enrolled in a
pedometer-based programme to obtain insurance discounts, and the majority met
their fitness goals, researchers found.
"Wellness interventions like this clearly hold significant promise for
encouraging physical activity among adults who are obese," said senior author Dr
Caroline Richardson, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine
at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. The study was conducted by
researchers from the University of Michigan Health System and Stanford
After one year, nearly 97% of participants in the walking program had met or
exceeded the average goal of 5 000 steps a day. This included people who
disagreed with the financial incentives and said the programme was "coercive".
'Financially motivate healthier behaviours'
For some families, the out-of-pocket cost of failing to meet the insurer's
fitness requirements was nearly $2 000 more a year. People with medical
conditions were exempt if they had a waiver from a doctor, according to the
Obesity is linked to serious health conditions, including heart disease, high
blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which contribute to high medical and
insurance costs in the United States.
Richardson said insurers are likely to offer more of these incentive
programmes in the future.
"There are ethical debates around the idea of forcing someone to be
personally responsible for health care costs related to not exercising, but we
expect to see more of these approaches to financially motivate healthier
behaviours," Richardson said in a university news release.
"Our evaluation of Blue Care's incentivised program showed a surprisingly
high rate of people who enrolled in the Internet-mediated walking program and
stuck with it - even among those who were initially hostile to the idea,"
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide
to physical activity.