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What insurers can offer to 'at risk' groups

By Greg Levine, Director of Sales & Distribution, VitalityHealth

Published: 30/08/2019
Wearables linked to reward programmes aren’t just about getting the already fit, fitter. Evidence shows they’re also helping the overweight and inactive to transform their lives, says Greg Levine, Director of Sales & Distribution, VitalityHealth.

Increasing rates of obesity in the UK

Obesity rates in the UK have soared since the 1970s, with two in three UK adults1 now classed as overweight or obese. The health consequences of this can be serious. But wearable technology as part of a reward-based programme has the power to reach a mass audience and change behaviours for the better.

According to recent figures2 from the charity Cancer Research UK, obesity now causes more cases of four common cancers – bowel, ovarian, kidney, and liver – than smoking.

But overeating, or following a poor diet, is not the only issue. A lack of physical exercise is also a major contributing factor to the obesity crisis.

A global World Health Organisation (WHO) study3 published last year revealed that more than a third of UK adults are not getting enough exercise, increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia, as well as cancer.

Research suggests our unwillingness to exercise may also be one reason mental health problems such as depression are on the rise. The findings of a US study4 published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal last year linked all types of activity, including housework, to better mental health.

And the bad news is, the number of people considered to be “at-risk” of poor health due to lifestyle is going up and up.

The WHO figures also revealed that inactivity has become much more prevalent in developed countries over the last 15 years.

Stuart Scullion, Executive Chairman of the Association of Medical Insurers & Intermediaries (AMII), said: “We know the five key considerations of a healthy lifestyle are: exercise; weight; alcohol consumption; and smoking; all underpinned by good sleep.

“Unfortunately, individuals struggling with one or more of those factors are at significantly greater risk.”

How technology can help insurers make a difference

While greater take up of technology is, arguably, one of the drivers of inactivity, one particular type of technology – wearable devices that track your movements – could be key to reversing the trend.

That’s because they enable insurers to reward people for becoming more active, offering them the chance to reduce their health and life insurance premiums.

Take Vitality Active Rewards, which was first launched in the UK in 2014. Thanks to the development of wearable technology, it has become the basis for a unique Apple Watch benefit, which leverages behavioural incentives and a loss-framed model (i.e. if you don’t maintain a certain level of activity, the monthly repayments are your responsibility) to drive engagement.

And according to a large study5 conducted by RAND Europe for Vitality last year, combining the two can really make a difference – especially among “at-risk” groups.

It found that participants using Vitality Active Rewards in conjunction with an Apple Watch to measure their performance did the equivalent of 4.8 extra days of activity per month. That’s an increase of 34%.

And among so-called “at-risk” participants with a high Body Mass Index (BMI), the results were even more impressive. While UK adults in this group were less likely to sign up to the benefit, those who did upped their activity levels by a massive 160%.

For us, these findings demonstrate the potential of Vitality to transform the lives of millions of “at-risk” members worldwide for the better. They also highlight the key role health and life insurance providers have to play in addressing the problem of physical inactivity – especially now we have the option to use wearable devices to link it to rewards.

And we are not the only ones who believe insurers, alongside governments and employers, can and should inspire positive change.

“Insurers are making significant strides in identifying and flagging health risks such as inactivity and providing a combination of support mechanisms to address the issues,” Scullion said.

“This is great, as where possible, it is far better to use the carrot to improve lifestyle choices than the stick.”

30/08/19 This article’s view is based on the law, practices and conditions as at the day of publication. While we have made every effort to ensure they are accurate, we accept no responsibility for our interpretation or any future changes. | VH O 0130

1 Statistics on obesity, physical activity & diet, England, May 2019,…
2 Obese people outnumber smokers two to one, Cancer Research UK, July 2019 https://www.cancerresearchuk.o…
3 Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity from 2001 to 2016, WHO for The Lancet Global Health, Oct 2018…
4 Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015, The Lancet Psychiatry, Sept 2018…
5 Vitality Active Rewards with Apple Watch, RAND Europe [Accessed July 2019]

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