Sunday, 2 January 2011

Vouchers to promote healthy eating - Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

A new scheme is to be launched in the UK, offering £50 ($75) of vouchers and additional discounts to families to encourage them to buy healthy foods and health related products such as Nintendo Wii fit and trainers.

This £250million ($375m) scheme is being funded by industry, with food giants such as Nestle and Mars underwriting the distribution of around 4 million voucher books offering money off some of their health food products.

There has already been some debate about the desirability of industry funding a department of Health initiative and Tam Fry, a trustee of the National Obesity Forum was quoted in The Sunday Times that the scheme was ‘little more than a marketing opportunity’ for the companies taking part.

But the point is – it is a well know fact that incentives can affect behaviour. I have built many a sales and marketing plan based on this premise. If these vouchers encourage the target audience (a fifth of the adult population according to the National Obesity Forum) to try some healthy foods then surely this must be a good thing? One of the vouchers is for alcohol free lager – perhaps some heavy drinkers who would like to try to limit their intake may be pleasantly surprised at this alternative.

I agree that the impact of this initiative may be small and if this was a government funded scheme I would probably be among the detractors. But I applaud Andrew Lansley (UK Secretary of State for Health) for looking to industry for sponsorship. Of course, the sponsoring companies expect to see increased sales as a result of this marketing exercise. But if even just a few unhealthy or overweight families start to change their behaviour then this is clearly a win win situation.

Obesity related disease will continue to have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of people in the UK and every health promotion initiative should be subjected to a rigorous cost benefit assessment. But where there is no cost to the tax payer and the initiative can at worst make little impact but at best promote some healthy habits, then it’s a no-brainer.


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