Points to help you kick bad habits

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

Toronto Star - - SPECIAL REPORT: LOYALTY AND REWARDS - CAMILLA COR­NELL SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

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.

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