Image source: Fitbit

Free Fitbits might be handed out to nudge Brits into better health

Overweight Brits might be handed out free Fitbits, shopping vouchers and supermarket discounts under a new £6 million government scheme.

This will be a part of the new “Health Incentives” programme, aimed to help get the country get in shape. This is currently in trial, but will be rolled out across the UK if it is proven successful.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets

In a sense, this is being modelled after the Singapore’s “National Steps Challenge“. This is an initiative launched recently to get Singaporeans to walk more. In part, it is being done by getting people compete against each other using wearable fitness devices. The goal is to avoid a “health catastrophe” caused by unhealthy lifestyles.

Now authorities in the UK are attempting to do something similar. Carrying excess weight is a health risk, especially during the pandemic. Reports show that disordered eating spiked due to the stress cased by the pandemic.

To make the problem even worse, obesity is considered to be one of the risk factors associated with COVID-19 mortality. The UK’s prime minister Boris John said at the recent Conservative party conference that his experience of Covid-19 was made far worse because he was “too fat”.

The Health Incentives programme

The six-month pilot scheme will launch in January 2022. Right now the government is looking for a partner to help run the programme. Supermarkets and fitness companies are being invited to help with the initiative.

Official statistics on obesity in the United Kingdom do not make pretty reading. Some two-thirds of adults in the country are overweight and one in four are obese. This is up about a fifth on two decades earlier. In fact, the UK is considered to be the most obese country in western Europe.

The problem is not just due to unhealthy eating. Inactivity is also to blame. Recent figures from PHE show that more than 6 million adults in the country fail to even put in a brisk 10 minute walk a month. This was probably made worse by the pandemic.

Obesity related illnesses cost the UK National Health Service some £6 billion each and every year. The hope is that the new initiative will save £100 million if everyone who was overweight lost just 5 lbs.

Essential reading: Should you really aim for 10,000 steps per day?

The scheme will focus on offering on incentives and rewards for healthy behaviours. This could include everything from vouchers and grocery discounts, to merchandise. Similar to the Singapore initiative, it could also see the government handing out fitness trackers such as Fitbits.

“The Health Incentives scheme will help us understand the role that rewards and incentives could play, in helping people lead healthy lives,” said Public Health Minister, Jo Churchill.

“This aims to help level up the health of our nation. This scheme further demonstrates the dedication in our strategy to encourage people to lead healthier, happier lives.”

This is not the only such initiative in the UK. The government recently launched a crack-down on junk food in order to battle the rise in child obesity. Amongst measures is a ban on TV advertising before 9pm of unhealthy foods that contain high levels of salt or sugar. This is expected to come into force by 2023.

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