Health Incentives

There are good reasons why fast food restaurants proliferate in the poorest neighborhoods.

Sturm and Yach noted that they’ve found no evidence yet to suggest that these changes in behavior have translated to reduced obesity, although they were encouraged by the evidence that suggests a financial incentive can prod people to alter their diets.

In the U.S., we are beginning to see health insurance companies working with employers to craft incentives for employees to follow healthier lifestyles. However, most of these programs deal with non-diet efforts: smoking cessation and stress relief classes, gym membership subsidies and the like. I am not aware of any efforts similar to what is happening in South Africa to encourage Americans to buy healthier foods. 

The fundamental problem in the U.S., when it comes to any movement, is that it so often happens in a piecemeal fashion, on a grass-roots level. For example, some but not all insurance companies offer potential life-altering programs, and the programs being offered often target select groups, such as smokers.

When it comes to diet, many colleges and a growing number of hospitals offer nutrition education and/or incentives to eat more healthfully. But again, not enough of them do and the audiences are limited: college students, faculty and staff, hospital staff and visitors. Some chain restaurants are beginning to offer healthier menu options, but the effort isn’t particularly strong or universal yet. 

In short, there are a lot of good efforts being put forth here and abroad to try to curb obesity. But until we find a way to connect the dots and link all these efforts into a cohesive plan, studies like Sturm and Yach’s will continue to show progress without revealing any light signifying an end to this tunnel.

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