Toronto Star

Points to help you kick bad habits

Carrot Rewards program aims to improve your health one baby step at a time


Kathryn McLean filled out a quiz on the flu shot recently and earned 200 Scene reward points. Then she boned up on her healthy eating knowledge and earned another 120 points. Her secret weapon: a new app called Carrot Rewards that offers Canadians points for health-related activities, from filling out a quiz to walking 1,000 steps.

“All of the quizzes and things are quite quick,” says McLean. “And the informatio­n was really helpful.”

So far Carrot Rewards is available only in B.C., but will be rolled out across the country beginning this June. The “carrot” for participan­ts? A chance to earn points from Aero- plan, Petro Points, Scene and More Rewards.

McLean was one of about 40,000 British Columbians to download the app in the first two weeks after it was released at the beginning of March. Launched by Social Change Rewards in conjunctio­n with the Public Health Agency of Canada and B.C.’s Ministry of Health, it capitalize­s on Canadians’ appetite for reward points in a bid to inspire healthy habits. So what’s the point? The government has long sponsored public health initiative­s aimed at increasing healthier behaviour and decreasing health-care costs in the long run, says Andreas Souvalioti­s, founder and CEO of Social Change Rewards, which developed the app. This is simply a more targeted approach to health promotion.

“It’s really a way of spending less on health promotion and yet achieving better results,” says Souvalioti­s. “It replaces money that would’ve been allocated to advertisin­g and it’s a much smarter way to reach the audience.”

The basic idea: More Canadians than ever live with chronic diseases and four out of five are at risk of developing diseases such as cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Treating those conditions costs big money, so if the government can encourage people to take baby steps toward better health, it can save money on disease treatment.

Research seems to back the ap- proach. A systematic review of previous studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2013 found financial incentives increased exercise attendance by about 12 per cent on average, at least for the first six months. And according to the U.S. Public Health Service, calling into a smoking quitline almost doubles the number of smokers able to kick the habit. Gently nudging people to healthy habits As Souvalioti­s points out, handing out big rewards for taking significan­t steps often doesn’t help people much.

“Offering thousands of loyalty points to quit smoking wouldn’t work very well,” he says. “The decision is so painful and so difficult, no matter what the reward, you may not do it.”

Carrot focuses instead on offering a few points for calling into a smoker’s hotline, completing a quiz on salt in the diet or learning about the benefits of eating a “rainbow” of fruits and veggies.

“That works very well,” says Souvalioti­s. “It gives people a reason to do it, without much of an obstacle. They’re only making a small commitment.”

 ??  ?? The Carrot Rewards app, rolling out across Canada in June, allows users to build up PetroPoint­s, Aeroplan miles, Scene points and More Rewards.
The Carrot Rewards app, rolling out across Canada in June, allows users to build up PetroPoint­s, Aeroplan miles, Scene points and More Rewards.
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