‘NHS exercise targets reward with shopping vouchers’ – Food Active response

‘NHS exercise targets reward with shopping vouchers’ – Food Active response

In a news story reaching the press today, the NHS have announced ‘radical plans’ of rewarding families and individuals with an array of gifts should they meet their ‘steps’ target tracked via a mobile app. They have claimed the proposals are part of efforts to reduce sedentary lifestyles and reward those who regularly engage in physical activity. It is also part of a new wider NHS policy attempting to link public health to urban design and town planning by building new towns around physical activity.

According to the Telegraph, some of the potential rewards under discussion include:

  • Cooking lessons for all residents
  • Free bikes with all newly built homes
  • Cut-price membership for gyms
  • Sports gear
  • Discounted supermarket shopping in reward for meeting step targets
  • Sprinting tracks marked on ‘safe pavements’ connected to public gyms via urban obstacle courses
  • Free cinema tickets
  • Outdoor cinema arenas and community squares to encourage community socialising on foot

Health and fitness officials from UKactive and the National Obesity Forum have praised the plans, claiming “it’s time to rip up the rule book for town planning and embrace innovative solutions to get people back on their feet” and “if they work, it will be a win-win situation”.

Whilst there is still much detail to be confirmed by the NHS, we raise some questions around the use of shopping vouchers as a reward. Obviously, such rewards would massively benefit lower income households and potentially improve household food insecurity in some incidences. However, the NHS should ensure that these shopping vouchers should only apply to healthy food options, including fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. Otherwise, the reward is deemed pointless as families may use the vouchers to buy in unhealthy food. Ironically, the measures could be rewarding physical activity with junk food. Representing highly conflicting and contradictory message. There is sufficient evidence to suggest cost is the greatest barrier for individuals and families in reaching a healthy diet. The NHS should consider only applying the discount to certain foods which reflect a healthy, balanced lifestyle and correspond with current public health guidance.

Whilst these plans today are promising and it is great to see public health is starting to be considered within other sectors, the NHS must consider all potential possibilities of these rewards. The final plans for the proposal will be submitted in January 2018. We must await the New Year to see whether the NHS has considered this possible knock-on effect.


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